Texas Tribune Editor-In-Chief and CEO Evan Smith gave a presentation about non-partisan journalism and digital convergence in Old Main Monday as part of Mass Comm Week.
Smith is one of several professionals who travel to Texas State each year to speak with students as part of the week-long event hosted by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Smith said Mass Comm Week is like “spring break for nerds.” He spoke to students about the future of journalism in the digital world and answered questions from the crowd.
Smith said the conditions for young people in the field of journalism has changed drastically since he was a student. He said recent college graduates wanting to work at a magazine would have to spend years doing menial tasks before landing an important position.
“Contrary to what you have heard, this is the best time imaginable to be a journalist,” Smith said.
Smith discussed the history of the Texas Tribune and its role in the state as well. An important aspect of the Tribune’s establishment in 2009 was making sure not to stray from an independent path, Smith said.
“We are our own focus group,” Smith said.
Smith said the Tribune began with only 17 reporters and currently has 46 full-time employees, 23 of them being reporters. Somewhere between one third and one half of the press corps at the Texas Capitol are Tribune reporters, he said.
Smith said the Tribune’s job is to educate the 27 million adults in Texas about the relevant issues of the day without taking political sides, explaining that the Tribune does not endorse candidates, editorialize or act partisan in any way.
“We want people to be more productive, thoughtful and engaged citizens,” Smith said. “We want them to have the tools to make better choices. We don’t care what those choices are.”
According to Smith, Texas has the 51st lowest voter turnout in the country, with a lower rate than the District of Columbia. Only 32 percent of Texans voted in the 2010 midterm election, Smith said.
An important service the Tribune provides is its livestreams at the Capitol, Smith said. During State Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster of a controversial anti-abortion bill, about 183,000 people were watching the Tribune’s livestream of the event, beating MSNBC’s ratings for the night, Smith said.
Smith said this “extraordinary night” showed off the power and potential of live streaming. Besides livestreaming, the only other ways to watch state procedures are through cable providers or QuickTime players, which Smith said are not reliable.
“You shouldn’t have to pay a cable company to see what your government is doing,” Smith said.
He said a Kickstarter created by the Tribune recently surpassed its target goal of $60,000. Funds raised through the Kickstarter will allow the Tribune to,purchase equipment to livestream the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race.
Last, Smith explained why the Tribune’s has embraced technology and digital convergence. The technology team at the Tribune is just as important as its reporters, Smith said, with programmers having their own bylines and creating just as much content as the journalists.
Smith said social media has come of age, and is therefore an area every media company must be involved in. He said Twitter matured as a publishing platform and has become the “AP wire” for the current generation.
While corporations used to discourage personal branding in the past, it is the “rocket (booster) that powers institutions” today, Smith said.
“Your individual brand powers you,” Smith said.