The More Things Change…

Dave Mann at his desk of 12 years.
Dave Mann at his desk of 12 years. "It's hard to let go of my old friend, the desk," says Dave.

On most mornings for the past 12 years, I’ve come to work at The Texas Observer’s dusty little office in downtown Austin, walking through our creaky front door on thousands of days. This morning I did it for the last time as an employee of this wonderful magazine.

Next week I will start an exciting new job up the street at Texas Monthly. But today, on my last day at the Observer after nearly 12 years, including the last three and a half as editor, I’m feeling a little wistful and nostalgic.

I’m amazed at how much the Observer has changed. When I started as a temporary reporter in 2003, we had enough money to keep the doors open only another three months. Somehow the Observer kept going, as it always had. There were three editorial staffers. Our print magazine, which looked, as one staffer put it, like a ’60s newsletter, was read by a few thousand people. If we had a really big story, we’d have to wait a few weeks for a New York Times reporter to show up, re-do the Observer’s reporting and make it national news.

Now the Observer’s budget is stable, secure for years into the future. Our editorial staff has quadrupled and we’re getting ready to hire another reporter. In fact, the Observer will soon need to leave this cramped office for larger digs. Our work is now read by hundreds of thousands of people online every month.

In 2003, the Observer was a nearly bankrupt little outlet that produced great journalism. We still do great work, at least in my subjective opinion, but we’re now a growing, modern news organization with occasional national impact. I certainly don’t claim credit for any of this, but it was fun to be part of.

I will miss this place, with its familiar routine and sense of mission. But mostly I’ll miss the people. I like to brag on our staff, and, in my opinion, with good reason. The Observer has a remarkably dedicated, smart and talented group of people working here. It’s been a great joy watching them produce some of the best journalism the Observer has ever published.

Since 2011 Observer stories have won or were a finalist for some of the most prestigious journalism awards in the country: twice nominated for a National Magazine Award in reporting, twice a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists, and winner of a Sigma Delta Chi award for magazine writing from the Society of Professional Journalists.

I know for most people that recitation of awards doesn’t mean much. Just think of it this way: It means Observer stories were recognized alongside the best work from the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, GQ, Rolling Stone and all the other giants of the magazine world. It means this little staff produces some of the best journalism in the country. Again, I certainly don’t take credit for that. But I’m proud to have been part of it.

And I’m proud of the impact our stories had on people’s lives—people like Josh Gravens, whose life changed after he was featured in the Observer. Today I’m also thinking about the people we didn’t quite help enough. Namely, Alfredo Guardiola and Curtis Severns, two men I believe were wrongly convicted of arson, who remain in prison at this very moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a few thanks, especially to the former Observer editors I worked with—Nate Blakeslee, Jake Bernstein and Bob Moser—and from whom I learned so much.

I also want to thank everyone who has read and supported this magazine and especially the many of you who have shared your stories with us during my tenure. I ask only that you keep reading and keep supporting the Observer. There are few publications like it—beholden to no one, willing to tell important stories in Texas that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a rare place where smart young writers have the freedom to follow their passions. For 60 years, the Observer has produced great journalism. The names and faces may change, but the mission remains the same.


Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

Published at 2:21 pm CST