Forty-five years ago, a small group of progressives led by the late Frankie Randolph of Houston marshaled their creative energy and a small amount of money and put together a business staff and editorial staff to publish the Texas Observer. Since 1954, the Observer has been a solitary, statewide outlet for independent journalism focused on politics and the political economy. That our progressive editorial agenda has never appealed to advertisers is no secret, nor is the fact that we have depended, and continue to depend, on our readers, and several supporters, for sustained financial support. That’s not unusual for journals of politics and culture. Whether they are on the left or the right of this country’s fairly narrow political spectrum, none makes a profit. The venerable and vital Nation, Mother Jones, The Progressive, In These Times, all depend on foundations, subscribers, and large donors to keep them in business. As do The National Review and The Weekly Standard on the right, and the American Spectator on the extreme, Clinton-hating right. Right-wing publications are easier to fund because they rarely challenge corporate interests. And because big right-wing givers far outnumber the beleaguered supporters of publications on the political left, the publications of the political right are usually flush. Flush we are not, and never have been. But what is unique about the Observer is the populist nature of our support base. No publication is as financially dependent upon the support of its readers as we are.
So we are back, to ask you once again for your financial support. If you believe that the Observer — like public radio, community radio, and public television — is a public good, we hope you will support us. If you do, we will invest your contribution in the sort of stories that won us national awards and the attention of the national media last year — for compelling stories of the lives of workers in the state, coverage of the environment, and a prolonged, critical examination of the presidential campaign that George W. Bush began shortly after defeating Ann Richards in 1994.
We would also like to invest part of your contributions in something else: a long-term growth program that will get the publication into the hands of new readers and ensure that we continue to be an independent voice in journalism (and a graduate school for some of the best young journalists in the country) into the next century.
To that end, Bernard Rapoport, who has supported the Observer since it began publishing, has pledged $50,000 this year — as a matching grant if we are able to raise $50,000 from our supporters. Former Observer editor Molly Ivins has herself funded a part-time development director to help us pursue the sort of foundation and individual grants that we hope will sustain the Observer for another forty-five years. Consider your gift a two-for-one contribution: an opportunity to separate Bernard Rapoport from some of his money — and to collaborate with Molly Ivins. The Observer is published by the non-profit 501(c)(3) Texas Democracy Foundation, so your contribution is tax-deductible. We will put it to use in the best interests of independent journalism and progressive politics in Texas.
–The Observer Staff
Dear Friends of the Observer,
If you’re reading this letter, you appreciate the value of a good publication: one that discovers, prints, and defends the truth — sometimes at a great cost. The Observer is such a publication, and there are maybe a half-dozen of them still published in this country. None of them makes a profit, and none of them exists without the backing of financial supporters large and small.
I remember Cliff Olofson, who for twenty years would drive up to Waco in an old car, to have lunch with me and go over Observer finances. Once he said to me, “B, I’m really worried about the Observer. Money is not coming in and I have used up all the credit on my credit cards.’ Cliff had no personal wealth, but he had a credit card to use to support the Observer. People like Cliff don’t come along very often in a lifetime.
We have made real progress since then and you’ve probably seen it in the pages of the publication. The Observer has won awards, led the national news media to stories that would have been missed, managed to pay writers a little more for their work, and gradually increased circulation.
The Observer’s foundation rests on three things: its committed staff, the loyalty of its readers, and the financial contributions of its supporters. I hope you represent both of those last two and that you will join me one more time in supporting this publication. The Observer needs your support in two ways:
1. Send as large a check as you can (and take your tax deduction).
2. Give gift subscriptions to friends who may become subscribers.
Because we believe in the importance of this Journal of Free Voices, if supporters will contribute a total of $50,000, Audre and I will match that amount. Last year, with your support, we raised $90,000 to keep the Observer running for another year. This year, we hope to raise enough money to stay in business and provide a budget for sustained growth.
More than sixty years ago, twelve or thirteen Russian Jewish families would congregate in my family’s house in San Antonio. Roosevelt’s New Deal was still years away, and those families were all radical Marxists, all dedicated to building a more just future. When the time came to collect money to build a political movement, all of them contributed something. I came to understand that if something is worth having, it’s worth supporting. That’s how I feel about the Observer. I hope you feel the same way.
Please help us build and strengthen the Observer.