Thursday, July 23, 2009

Texas Tribune on the Move

Texas Tribune, the online startup being created by Austin venture capitalist John Thornton, has had a busy week in preparation for its planned fall launch.

Last Friday, it announced that it had hired Evan Smith from the highly regarded Texas Monthly. Smith will serve as CEO of the Tribune.

On Thursday, the Tribune announced that it would buy Texas Weekly, an online, subscription newsletter on Texas statehouse politics. The weekly's editor, Ross Ramsey, will be the Tribune's managing editor. The announcement also includes bios on the Tribune's first five reporting hires.

A couple of things are noteworthy about these moves.

One is the quality of the journalists that the Tribune has been able to attract. In addition to Smith and Ramsey, the five reporters named to the Tribune's staff have top-notch resumes; most are veteran reporters leaving well known publications, including some of Texas' biggest daily newspapers. All due respect to the Tribune, but this speaks as much to journalists' rapidly changing view of newspapers as premier career destinations. Reporters want to work for news organizations that their sources and subjects respect, if not fear, and where they will be treated well. This is a professional flight to stability, and ultimately, to quality.

The other is Thornton's decision to buy an existing, subscription-based product. The purchase solves one of his biggest concerns - how to build an audience - as the weekly gives him entree to the state's opinion leaders. While the Tribune is decidedly a nonprofit - Thornton speaks passionately about the need to separate God and Mammon - it also provides a model for generating revenues that can sustain the Tribune beyond its startup phase.

This is one to watch.

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