It’s easy to forget what a gamble The Texas Tribune’s model was when it launched in 2009. We launched a new nonprofit newsroom in an era of serious headwinds for journalism. Fourteen years later, that gamble has paid off in big ways, breaking in Texas’ favor and forever disrupting the media landscape. We have seen some challenging days, but yesterday was a particularly difficult day.
In this post we’re laying out what happened, why, what we’ve learned and what we’re going to do next.
As I began planning with the leadership team for 2024 and matched our goals with the numbers — readership, potential audience and financial data — we realized that we could be entering a tough budget year. That has turned out to be the case, and the Tribune has to face economic changes just like any other business.
This week, we laid off 11 colleagues, including two who’ve been with us since the Tribune’s launch. The journalism done by those departing has been some of the best our newsroom and our industry has seen — conversation-changing, light-shining and award-winning. Their absence will be felt in our newsroom and on our site. Our newsroom, engineering, design and operations teams were affected by this news. These are people who’ve been essential to the success of the Tribune. We’ve never had layoffs, and this was a very difficult decision. We recognize the magnitude of this news for our supporters, our staff, and our readers. It was hard, but we saw no other choice.
We also made the difficult decision to put two podcast products on hiatus: our daily audio Brief and our weekly TribCast, giving us time to pause and remap our audio storytelling strategy.
The strength of our revenue model has propelled us through the past 14 years, fueling the Tribune’s steady growth and the enterprising work and engaging storytelling of our newsroom. In spite of this year’s budget difficulties, we believe the business is sound and will continue to thrive. We will press on.
We are adding to the team that brings in the revenue that fuels the Tribune’s important journalism. Our current revenue teams are the best in the business — and they’re too lean to support an organization of our size. We’re hiring two more to our sponsorship team and will also invest in our development team soon to keep pace with our ambitions for the future.
Since the beginning, we’ve shared the lessons we’ve learned as the Tribune was being built. One is that the Texas Tribune is not immune to external forces. We don’t get to opt out of the realities of an unsteady economy, an evolving media industry, the pressures of technology or the world in which we’re operating in. No Texas exceptionalism here. Even growing and successful businesses face setbacks.
With that said, our statewide nonprofit media model remains durable and sustainable. A unique mix of philanthropy, corporate sponsorship and earned revenue makes our important work possible.
Our newsroom is preparing for an impending special legislative session and historic impeachment hearings. Just ahead: TribFest and soon after that, the 2024 primary elections.
The vision I put into the world earlier this summer called for The Texas Tribune to be the indispensable first stop for Texans seeking Texas state news. We will anchor everything we do in that journalism and the business that supports it. I look forward to working with the teams working on the Tribune’s next chapter.
There’s a lot to unpack here. We acknowledge this may affect your trust in us. There is no sugar-coating the fact that this has been one of the toughest weeks in the Trib’s history. We think we are better prepared now for what’s ahead. You can help by reading our stories, becoming a member if you are able now or during our Fall Member Drive next month, and attending our events, including the Texas Tribune Festival.