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T-Squared: The 2020 Texas Tribune Festival is in the books. It was one for the ages

We learned a lot during our first-ever virtual TribFest — how long sessions should ideally be (shorter), whether it’s easier to book speakers who don’t have to travel to Austin (duh) and much more. Hope you learned a lot too.

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2020 has been — say it with me — a different kind of year than we were expecting, so we were serious as can be, as serious as the times warrant, when we promised a different kind of Texas Tribune Festival. This was going to be the tenth year of our annual, weekend-long, in-person ideas conference, but the world famously didn’t cooperate, so instead it became the first year of virtual TribFest.

We had all the anxiety-ridden questions you’d expect in advance of a big pivot. Could we attract a big audience? Could we land big speakers? Could we remake the schedule in a way — shorter sessions, longer time frame — that kept our programming from getting lost in a busy news environment? Could we build a platform that was both cutting-edge and easy enough for my mom to use? Could we fully lean into our mission of making people better informed and more engaged?

And there was a practical matter: Our festival is responsible for more than a fifth of the revenue we generate each year, revenue that funds our public service journalism. Could we make the economics work?

I’m happy to report the answer to all of those questions turns out to be a resounding yes. At the end of our month-long online extravaganza, we can say with confidence that we overdelivered on both what we promised you and what we expected of ourselves. It was, no joke, and no disrespect to hype man me of previous years, our best Fest yet.

Don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself. We’ll still sell you a ticket for the next five days, during which time you’ll be able to watch any of our archived “on demand” sessions. If you’re not in a buying mood, good news: The 40 or so sessions that we made free to access — our virtual “OpenCongress” sessions — will be available to watch indefinitely on YouTube.

With the curtain now down on #TribFest20, there are plenty of thank-you's to go around.

Thank you to every one of our amazing 300 speakers for giving us some of your time in this busy news moment. Special thanks to those of you — I’m looking at you, Marco and Hillary — who we pursued year after year to no avail but finally got to yes when coming to Austin on a fixed set of dates was no longer a requirement.

Thank you to the sponsors who made the 2020 Festival possible. The program may have been virtual, but the costs of putting it on, of pulling it together, were real. We’re grateful to a long list of companies, institutions and foundations — from Arnold Ventures to University of Texas Press — for stepping up and supporting us in a dicey economy.

Thank you to the Tribune’s many members, who were out in force all month. We love you! Your support makes everything we do possible. We couldn’t be happier to have you as part of our community. (If you’re a Late Larry or a Last-Minute Lucy and you somehow made it through September without becoming a member, we’ll happily make room for you on our donor wall. Donate today at texastribune.org/give)

Thank you to our media partners for getting the word out, pairing up on programming and lending us your best folks as moderators and panelists: CBS News, Chalkbeat, The Dallas Morning News, The Financial Times, KERA, KXAN, MSNBC, Politico, The San Antonio Report, The 19th*, The Washington Post, The USA Today Network, The Washington Examiner and WFAA.

Thank you to the handful of outside helpers who did unseen heavy lifting over the last five months and smoothed our transition from in person to online: Laurea De Ocampo and Sophie Sutherland (who will be in my will); the teams at Happy Cog and World Stage; Marissa Aydlett and Maggee Dorsey; and Robert Busweiler and everyone at Sunshine Sachs.

Finally, thank you to everyone at the Tribune, top to bottom, who worked their tails off for months, and especially this month, to make #TribFest20 happen. In particular, kudos to Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Millie Tran, April Hinkle, Jacob Villanueva, Natalie Choate, Malú Gonzalez, Cydney Washington, Emily Albracht, Michael Rey DeLeon, Sarah Glen, Liam Andrew, Andrew Gibson, Bobby Blanchard, Regina Mack, Jon Garza, Catherine Grooms, Kennedy Williams, Maddie Dobbs, Marissa Partin and Jake Sam.

And above all, thank you to Jessica Weaver, our newly christened creative director for live events. Without Jess’s grit and vision and focus, none of this would have been possible.

See you in downtown Austin for #TribFest21 — we hope!

Arnold Ventures (formerly known as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation), Politico and University of Texas Press have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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