Journalism Entrepreneur Gives Optimistic Message About Media’s Future

February 18, 2010  

Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, spoke at a Northwestern University alumni event Thursday in North Dallas. (PHOTO AND AUDIO BY BROOKS POWELL / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune, spoke at a Northwestern University alumni event Thursday in North Dallas. (PHOTO AND AUDIO BY BROOKS POWELL / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

By Sarah Acosta

Evan Smith, former editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly magazine and now CEO of the newly launched Texas Tribune, delivered a positive message about the future of journalism at a Northwestern University alumni event on Thursday.

Smith said he believes the world is perpetrating a myth that this is a bad time to go into journalism. On the contrary, he said, it’s a great time to go into the business.

“If you are an entrepreneurial person by nature, the technology is cheaper, the ability to publish is cheaper, and the disarray that the world is in right now creates an opening,” Smith said.

Smith has used this opening to create the nonpartisan, non-profit Texas Tribune website, which aims to revolutionize coverage of politics and public policy in Texas.

Meet the Entrepreneur

Smith spent 18 years with Texas Monthly, where he was nominated for numerous awards and won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence twice.

He worked for several other national magazines, such as The New Republic, and hosts the weekly talk show Texas Monthly Talks, which airs on PBS.

Originally from New York, Smith graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and received a master’s in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he was later inducted into the Medill Journalism Hall of Achievement.

Revolutionizing Through the Tribune

Through original reporting, video, audio, blogs, record compilations, aggregation feeds from other news organizations and even aggregated tweets of Texas elected officials — all done with transparency and donated funds — Smith believes the Tribune is on the right track.

To prove the early success of the Tribune, Smith showed that since its launch 15 weeks ago the site has had nearly 1.63 million pageviews, 550,000 visits from 170 countries and 932 Texas cities, and raised more than $4 million.

Lessons Learned

By keeping things simple, clean, and transparent, Smith believes the Tribune has a bright future. But he also shared some of the lessons he has learned in the last six months while building his vision for the Tribune.

Finding the right balance of content was the first point Smith stressed, and said he is still trying to figure it out.

“I’d rather go heavy and blow people away, rather than having too little content,” he said.

The difference between working for a magazine and a Web site, Smith said, is that the act of publication begins, not ends when the Tribune publishes.

The trick, he said, is secondary distribution through social media, email, text pushes and other forms of delivery.

Smith also stressed the importance of data. He said it’s not just news, it’s knowledge, and people want access to it.

“We’re not just giving people the fish,” he said. “We are also teaching them how to fish.”

Smith also urged that media organizations must partner with everyone.

“We can either hang together or survive together,” he said.

Even though no one can truly tell what the future of journalism is, Smith said he thinks the Tribune is headed in the right direction because of the more than 1,500 members who already support it.

Future of Journalism

Smith’s points about the future of journalism resonated with several people who attended Thursday’s event.

“I’ve been following the Tribune since its launch,” said communications specialist Melissa May of Greatwide Logistics Services, who attended Smith’s talk. “What Evan is doing is revolutionary.”

Even readers of a pre-Internet generation have become supporters.

“For the longest time I have been used to having at least two papers in my hands every day,” Senior District Judge Harold Entz said. “I’m now realizing that I have to get modern with new technology and I’m loving the way the Tribune is doing things.”

Sean Lofgren, president of the Kellogg Alumni Club, said his uncle won two Pulitzer prizes and still got laid off from the Miami Herald newspaper.

“If this concept, like the Tribune, was around in Florida, maybe his voice would still be heard,” Lofgren said.

Photos and audio by SMU Daily Mustang Staff Reporter Brooks Powell

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One Response to “Journalism Entrepreneur Gives Optimistic Message About Media’s Future”

  1. ABC News To Slash 20% of Jobs « News News on February 25th, 2010 4:19 pm

    [...] University alumni about the exciting future of public (or civic) journalism. An article on The Daily Mustang has an audio recording of the lecture, and it’s worth listening to even if it’s [...]