The Texas Observer Loses Three Editorial Staff, Plans to Grow Business Team

"I've been in this business a long time, and I've never had colleagues who were more dedicated to covering the people and the issues who usually don't get enough attention from the news media."


On Monday, the board of directors of the Texas Democracy Foundation—the parent nonprofit of the Texas Observer—announced that Gabriel Arana is no longer editor-in-chief of the Texas Observer.

Arana had led the Observer since he took over as interim editor-in-chief in 2021. He chose not to immediately comment on the board’s decision. The board did not disclose specific reasons to staff. Arana was part of a staff effort that helped save the Observer when it was threatened with closure in March 2023.

Separately, as part of its budget planning process, the board announced that it was eliminating two editorial positions—digital editor and editor-at-large—resulting in the layoffs of Kit O’Connell and Gayle Reaves, who were also on staff during last year’s financial crisis.

O’Connell joined the Texas Observer in the summer of 2022. During their tenure, their work was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award and a National Magazine Award. They also built up a large following for the publication on the social network Mastodon and other social media networks. O’Connell has an upcoming feature on the devastating effects of long COVID in the March/April 2024 issue of the print magazine.

Reaves, a Pulitzer prize-winning editor, also joined the Observer in 2022 and edited the Observer’s series on attacks on women’s healthcare in 2023, among many other stories. 

“It’s been a privilege to work with the crew at the Observer—both staffers and freelance writers—over the last two years,” Reaves said. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve never had colleagues who were more dedicated to covering the people and the issues who usually don’t get enough attention from the news media. The Observer makes a place for those people to turn to, and it’s important that the magazine continue to be able to do that job.”

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In a statement, Texas Democracy Foundation board members said the two layoffs were part of a restructuring intended to ensure the Observer’s financial stability. “The reorganization will allow the Observer to hire audience and fundraising positions that will give the organization the expertise it must have to continue to serve as the independent voice in Texas journalism,” the board said. “The board believes this restructuring will allow the Observer to respond to the extreme changes and challenges the news industry faces in 2024 and anticipates naming an interim editor-in-chief within the coming week.”

“This is a very difficult day for the Texas Observer, but, after the financial challenges of the past year, I believe the changes we’re putting in place today will make us a stronger organization and allow the Observer to grow,” said Board President Lize Burr. “This is a dark time for journalism in our country. I am deeply grateful that the Texas Observer remains committed to independent thinking and thinkers and proudly reports stories published nowhere else.”

“At an organization our size, any decision to conduct layoffs is going to hit everyone really hard, and I’m deeply sorry for the impact on our former colleagues,” said Interim Executive Director Loren Lynch. “These changes are necessary to invest in our audience and fundraising efforts. Media is in crisis, and it’s more important than ever to make certain that we’re serving communities across Texas. We believe this difficult decision was the best way forward to ensuring the Texas Observer‘s long-term sustainability and fulfilling our commitment to our readers.”

Reaves said she’ll continue to support the Observer—and hopes that readers will too. 

“I was so proud of that long list of readers and supporters who made it possible for us to keep the doors open during our last financial crisis,” Reaves said. “I hope they will turn out again this time around. The state has never needed the Observer more than it does now.”