Texas Tribune stakes claim for watchdog journalism

Texas Tribune stakes claim for watchdog journalism

Evan Smith (left) on Texas Monthly Talks, interviewing John Edwards.
Evan Smith (left) on Texas Monthly Talks, interviewing John Edwards.

Texas Monthly’s Evan Smith, who is leaving the “national magazine of Texas” to launch the nonprofit Texas Tribune, is swiftly staking a claim for watchdog journalism by hiring reporters with a strong track record of digging up important stories.

The Tribune, a fledgling Web publication, is going to cover state government and politics. It announced today that it acquired the Texas Weekly newsletter and hired its first batch of five reporters. A common thread connecting each hire is how they’ve spent years aggressively covering state politics and government in Austin.

I’m most familiar with the work of Emily Ramshaw and Matt Stiles. Emily is a Dallas Morning News reporter who uncovered abuses in the Texas state school system, which serves people with mental retardation. Emily broke the story about state school workers in Corpus Christi who organized fight-club style matches between vulnerable residents. There were even cell-phone videos of the fights.

Matt worked at the Houston Chronicle’s Austin Bureau and often produced interesting, computer-driven stories based on data analysis. (He describes himself on Twitter as a “data monkey.”) Earlier this year, he analyzed a database of lobbyist spending kept by the Texas Ethics Commission and found lobbyists spent $12 million wining and dining state politicians.

Here’s a pdf of the complete press release by the Texas Tribune, which is funded by venture capitalist John Thornton.

The hirings indicate the Tribune is making good on its promise to publish original news online. Phillip Martin at Burnt Orange Report says: “The Texas Tribune is going to make a big, big splash when they launch in November.”

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattwright/)