About the Texas Observer

The Texas Observer is an Austin-based nonprofit news organization that strives to make Texas a more equitable place by exposing injustice through investigative journalism, narrative storytelling, and cultural coverage. Rather than chasing breaking news, we dig beyond the headlines and contextualize news events. Our essays, reviews, and criticism seek to create a new cultural canon and challenge existing mythologies.

Since its founding in 1954, the Observer has focused on communities whose stories are too often ignored or poorly told. We hope not only to inform, but to empower our readers, as we work to hold public officials and corporations accountable. Our reporters recognize that oppressed people are experts on their own lives and trust their expertise.

Our journalism is fact-based and rigorous, and we prize writing that entertains as it informs. We value history as a reporting tool that allows us to interrogate the origins of policies and to correct narratives that whitewash exploitation, dispossession, and genocide.

Our founding mission statement continues to guide our work:

We will serve no group or party but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. We are dedicated to the whole truth, to human values above all interests, to the rights of humankind as the foundation of democracy. We will take orders from none but our own conscience, and never will we overlook or misrepresent the truth to serve the interests of the powerful or cater to the ignoble in the human spirit.

As a 501(c)(3), we do not endorse candidates or legislation.

The Observer’s reporting is often picked up by the national media, including: the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, “60 Minutes,” “20/20,” “Frontline,” Mother Jones, The Nation, TIME magazine, National Public Radio and ABC News.

Our reporting has prompted investigations and hearings in the U.S. Congress and the Texas Legislature and led to the exonerations of several wrongly convicted Texans.

Our work has garnered widespread acclaim: In 2015, the Observer was recognized with an Emmy award and a National Magazine Award — the most prestigious magazine reporting prize in the country. In 2016, our reporting won the Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalists, two Sigma Delta Chi awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and received accolades from Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Texas Medical Association, The Media Consortium, and more. We also were named finalists for the National Magazine Award in 2013 and 2014. And we’ve won dozens of awards from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and been recognized for the nation’s Best Political Coverage by the Utne Reader and twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award.

Our History

In 1954, Houstonian Frankie Randolph set out to create a newspaper that would cover issues ignored by the state’s daily newspapers: race and class and the lives of working people. Ms. Randolph bought the State Observer, brought Marshall, Texas lawyer Franklin Jones, who owned the East Texas Democrat, in on the plan, and called young journalist Ronnie Dugger to Austin’s Driskill Hotel to offer him the job as founding editor of the new Texas Observer. Dugger accepted, and set about producing a fiercely independent muckraking paper the likes of which Texas had never before seen.

In 1994, Dugger transferred ownership of the Observer to the Texas Democracy Foundation, which was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to publish and promote the Observer.

Our Work

For 60 years, the Observer has employed some of the best writers and journalists in Texas — Ronnie Dugger, Billy Lee Brammer, Willie Morris, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Lou Dubose, Nate Blakeslee and Jake Bernstein, among many others—to unearth the state’s most important stories. Dugger covered East Texas lynchings that major dailies refused to report; Ivins wrote about Texas politics like no one ever had; Blakeslee uncovered a racist drug bust in the Panhandle town of Tulia that proved a national disgrace; Bernstein revealed the corruption beneath Tom DeLay’s campaign fundraising strategies. Our current staff carries on that tradition. In the past five years, the Observer has broken some of the biggest stories in Texas.

Notable Awards and Recognition

●  In 2015, our four-part series “Beyond the Border” won a National Magazine Award in the Multimedia category. “The Shield,” a two-part investigation of brutality and lack of accountability in the Houston Police Department, was a finalist for a 2014 NMA for Reporting. Melissa del Bosque’s story “Valley of Death” was a 2013 finalist in the same category.

●  “Beyond the Border” won a 2015 Emmy for New Approaches: Current News Coverage.

● “Beyond the Border” received a 2015 Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma. The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma is a project of the Columbia Journalism School.

●  Patrick Michels was also a 2013 finalist for the Livingston Award, recognizing excellence in journalists under 35.

●  Melissa del Bosque was named a Lannan reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. The Nation Institute, through a grant from the Santa Fe-based Lannan Foundation, will fund Melissa’s travel and reporting in 2016-17 so she can produce in-depth projects on human trafficking, migration and border militarization.

●  Melissa was also awarded an Ochberg Fellowship from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and is a 2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

●  Patrick Michels was awarded first place in the Education Writers Association’s 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting in the Feature category for magazines and weeklies for his story “Working for Superman: Texas Schools Turn to Hero Superintendents.”

●  The Society of Professional Journalists awarded a 2013 Sigma Delta Chi award for Public Service in Magazine Journalism to Emily DePrang’s “Life on the List,” which vividly portrays what happens when children are placed on the sex-offender registry.

  • Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (42 awards)
  • Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors Excellence in State Government Reporting
  • Texas Medical Association Anson M. Jones Awards (4 awards)
  • Environmental Justice Reporting Award, Sierra Club Houston
  • Finalist, Investigative Reporters and Editors Award
  • Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award
  • Pan American Health Organization, Excellence in Journalism Award
  • James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism
  • Katie Award (Press Club of Dallas) Finalist
  • Project Censored (8 awards)
  • State Bar of Texas Gavel Award (3 awards)
  • Texas League of Women Voters
  • Utne Reader, Best Political Magazine
  • Houston-Galveston Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s Media Award

●  In April 2018, Chris Collins won the SPJ Sigma Delta Chi award for excellence in magazine reporting.

●  In May 2018, Chris Collins was announced as a finalist for the Livingston Award.

Editorial Independence Policy

We subscribe to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News:

Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.

We accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support.

Our organization may consider donations to support the coverage of particular topics, but our organization maintains editorial control of the coverage. We will cede no right of review or influence of editorial content, nor of unauthorized distribution of editorial content.

Our organization will make public all donors who give a total of $5,000 or more per year. We will accept anonymous donations for general support only if it is clear that sufficient safeguards have been put into place that the expenditure of that donation is made independently by our organization and in compliance with INN’s Membership Standards.

Donor Policy

We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization.

Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions.

We accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals, organizations and foundations to help with our general operations, coverage of specific topics and special projects. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. We do not give supporters the rights to assign, review or edit content.

We will make public all donors who give $5,000 or more per year. As a nonprofit, we will avoid accepting donations from anonymous sources, and we will not accept donations from government entities, political parties, elected officials or candidates actively seeking public office. We will not accept donations from sources who, deemed by our board of directors, present a conflict of interest with our work or compromise our independence.

IRS Form 990s

The three most recent 990s for the Texas Democracy Foundation.