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Oct. 16, 2019, 1:07 p.m.
Business Models

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune are teaming up on a full-time, Texas-focused investigative news unit

“This is not ProPublica Texas. This is a very different entity — a cobranded, co-managed operation that brings together the natural strengths of two different but compatible organizations.”

ProPublica has funded or collaborated on investigative news reporting with well over 100 other outlets, and launched it its first state-level expansion in Illinois in 2017. But the partnership it announced Tuesday night with The Texas Tribune is a first for both outlets: They’re jointly launching a Texas-focused, permanent investigative reporting unit with 11 full-time staffers, set to begin publishing Feb. 1 and with funding of around $8 million to fully sustain it for at least five years.

“ProPublica exists for the entire purpose of doing big-swinging investigations. They’re better at it than anybody else, but they’ve got kind of a national footprint,” said Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune. “Their ability to tap into statehouse investigations has been limited because they have an entire country to cover, but they’ve got designs on figuring out where they can do the most good a level down from their national investigative journalism.

“This is not ProPublica Texas,” he continued. “This is a very different entity — a cobranded, co-managed operation that brings together the natural strengths of two different but compatible organizations.”

The new investigative unit will not have its own distinct brand or separate web presence. It will have 11 employees — 10 at the Tribune in Austin, one at ProPublica in New York — who’ll be managed jointly. (Some will be on ProPublica’s payroll despite being located in Austin. ProPublica explained in its announcement that the new hires will be “a senior editor, five reporters, a research reporter and a producer on the staff of ProPublica and a data visuals reporter, engagement reporter and development associate on the staff of the Tribune.”)

All the content that the unit produces will run jointly on ProPublica and the Texas Tribune’s sites, and it’ll be free for everyone to read and for other publications to run. “We said to ProPublica at the beginning that we want to able to continue to give the content that we produce away free to anybody who wants to run it,” Smith said. “In the past, when we’ve published and produced significant collaborations with ProPublica, pretty much every newspaper in the state has run it. We expect that’s probably going to be the case with most of the stuff we publish here.”

The unit will launch with $5.75 million in funding from the Houston-based Arnold Ventures, with other funders contributing to bring that total to an eventual $8 million over the first five years ($1.6 million/year). “Ideally, as is always the case in these situations,” said ProPublica CEO Richard Tofel, “it will catch on, the content will prove itself out, and we’ll be able to grow it over time.”

This partnership brings together arguably the most successful national and regional news nonprofits. At its launch in 2007, ProPublica planned to have about 36 employees; today, its staff page lists an astounding 126 people. In 2009, when The Texas Tribune debuted, it had a staff of 19; today, that’s 70. Each has served as a model for dozens of other news nonprofits seeking to reach their level of sustainability and editorial impact. Now they can model the sort of national/local collaboration that will likely become more important as the fortunes of the commercial local news business continue to wane.

Photo of the Texas Capitol Building and Congress Avenue in Austin used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Oct. 16, 2019, 1:07 p.m.
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