Announcing the Texas Observer’s New Engagement Initiative

Since 1954, the Observer has focused on communities who are often ignored. Funding from the Google News Initiative takes us to the next level.

Since 1954, the Observer has focused on communities who are often ignored. Funding from the Google News Initiative takes us to the next level.

Journalism’s great strength is in its ability to hold the powerful to account. For too long, however, that power has been tempered by the fact that communities of color are often simply written out of or represented incorrectly in news coverage. This great sin of omission is something that we are only now beginning to confront.

The Observer believes that we have a responsibility to do better when it comes to engaging with communities of color. And so, for the next 11 months, thanks to funding from the Google GNI Innovation Challenge, we’ll be working to try and fix that.

Our goal is to embed ourselves deep in eight communities of color across Texas. To do it, we’ll be reaching out to build relationships in places between newsrooms and residents that simply have not existed before. For starters, we’ll be in Bastrop, Nacogdoches, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Alabama-Coushatta Nation. We’ll be listening and engaging with local leaders and residents , to figure out what their media needs are, and, when we can, help spur broader factual information sharing within communities.

We’ll also be bringing what we learn back to our newsroom and collaborators. Though there is nothing new with this part of our approach, we believe that the level of engagement we’re offering is unprecedented — and should result in an unprecedented understanding of the needs of our partners.

Speaking of partners: We’re standing on some serious shoulders to do this work. We’ve teamed up with the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, and Huston-Tillotson University. The program we’ll be implementing is designed to extend the work of another partner, Press On, which has been working to produce journalism driven by oppressed communities.  

We’re eager to get going, and we can’t wait to tell you more about what we learn. We’ll be in touch.

Do you think free access to journalism like this is important? The Texas Observer is known for its fiercely independent, uncompromising work—which we are pleased to provide to the public at no charge in this space. That means we rely on the generosity of our readers who believe that this work is important. You can chip in for as little as 99 cents a month. If you believe in this mission, we need your help.

DaLyah Jones is the director of community engagement. Formerly, she was a staff writer for Texas Observer covering the environment. She has also worked as a general assignment reporter and All Things Considered producer for Austin’s NPR Station, KUT 90.5, where she focused on rural and suburban stories outside of the Capital’s urban core.

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