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T-Squared: High Five

In the wee hours of Nov. 3, 2009, we flipped the switch on our website, this little experiment of ours in raising the level of civic engagement through nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Yep, happy birthday to us.

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Five years ago yesterday, Wendy Davis and Dan Patrick were relatively obscure state senators still learning the ropes at the Texas Capitol. Ted Cruz was practicing law in Houston. Julián Castro was the newbie mayor of San Antonio. Barack Obama was barely in the White House for nine months, and — to flip around Joe Biden’s campaign-trail construct — Osama bin Laden was alive and the auto industry was dead. Tom Schieffer and Kay Bailey Hutchison were hoping to battle it out for governor in the next year’s general election. And hardly anyone could have imagined Rick Perry running for president once, let alone twice.

Five years ago yesterday, there was also no Texas Tribune. But in the wee hours of five years ago today, we flipped the switch on our website, this little experiment of ours in raising the level of civic engagement through nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Yep, happy birthday to us. It’s an accepted bit of wisdom that nobody cares about your milestones as much as you do, which is why we weren’t expecting a bunch of cards or balloons when we arrived at the office (well, maybe Kinky Friedman dressed as Marilyn Monroe jumping out of a cake). But it’s cause for celebration just the same.

That we got here is pretty amazing, though how we did it is pretty straightforward: We never wavered, not once, from what we said were going to do.

We said we would focus our energies and attention on three things and three things only: public policy, politics and state government.

We said we would deliver — call it what you will — watchdog journalism, accountability journalism, public interest journalism: daily and breaking news coverage, longer-form investigative projects, robust multimedia, data reporting, and a suite of editorial events across the state.

We said we would use the tools of technology to enable and enhance the delivery of our content — innovating in not just what we created but how we presented it.

We said we would make our work available for free to anyone who wanted to publish or broadcast it, as our goal was to reach as many people in as many places on as many platforms as possible.

We said we would keep our thumbs off the scale: no endorsing candidates or campaigns, no taking positions on issues. Balance in the work we produce was baked into our mission; fairness, thoroughness and accuracy were our guideposts.

We said we would raise the money to pay for all this from individuals, foundations and corporations, as other public media organizations have for years, and that we'd be transparent about the sources of our funding.

All that we've done, and much more, with gusto and moxie and a genuine sense of purpose. I could cite many measures of how far we've come and what we've accomplished, but the two that truly stand out cause me to shake my head in disbelief as I type these words: Five years in, we have more reporters covering a state capitol than any news organization, for-profit or nonprofit, in the country; and we've brought in nearly $27 million to pay for serious journalism.

Have we done everything perfectly? Of course not. But drawing on, collectively, many years of experience in the business, and following our best instincts, we've made more good decisions than bad, and we've learned a lot along the way. The greatest recognition of what we've built is the persistent effort across the country and around the world to replicate the Tribune's editorial and economic model. Talk about humbling.

So many good-hearted, hard-working souls, too many to name, had a hand in our success these first five years. Our message to them, and to you, is, simply: Thanks — and wait until you see what we have planned for the next five.

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