The Texas Observer Lives!
After a terrifying near-death experience, we live to muckrake another day.
On Friday, the staff and I had a big party to celebrate the revival of the Texas Observer at our offices in Austin. I wanted to share my remarks with the readers who saved our bacon. The staff and I couldn’t be more grateful. xoxo
On Sunday, I was playing hide-and-seek with our 95-proud Golden Retriever when I got a call from Sewell Chan, editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune. He sounded harried, urgent: “Gabe, I hate to mix business and friendship, but we have a 2,300-word story coming out. It’s sensitive. We’re being respectful and going into the full history. You’re in the story.”
I interrupted him. “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know?”
“The board voted to lay off the entire staff and cease publication immediately.”
The blood drained from my brain, and my vision blanked. I thought of the staff. Gus Bova has a baby Observerite on the way. Josephine Lee just quit her teaching job to be an investigative journalist. They’re going to find out they’re jobless with two days’ notice, and there’s no severance.
Sewell asked me for a quote. I blurted something out.
“Can you wait until I call the staff?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
With dread in my heart, I started calling our team. I said I was sorry. I said I was sorry we had to find out that way. We were shocked and outraged.
“Do they think they’re shutting down a Tesla plant?” one worker asked.
We got the official news the next day. The board didn’t take any questions. Most members left the call as soon as the proclamation was read. A select group of sympathizers remained to talk.
“I love this thing,” I said.
We had a simple ask. We thank you for your support over the years. We know you’re tired. Give us the reigns. Let us try.
And then we got to work. James Canup, who resigned in protest, set up a GoFundMe. Lauren Benavides drafted an email to our readers. Kit O’Connell jumped on Mastodon. Lise Olsen and Gayle Reaves started planning meetings. Ivan Flores started designing ads and merch. Bob Frump advised on strategy. The whole staff rolled up their sleeves.
And I started doing one thing I’m good at: Opening my big mouth and talking to the media.
When we said we wanted to try, one board member said, “Where are you going to get 200K?”
The thing that non-journalists tend not to appreciate is that magazines are not a business. Well, they are, but they’re more than that. As I Tweeted:
This is not a WalMart you can just shut down. They don’t own the Texas Observer. None of us do. It’s an idea in the minds of our readers. Of the people who work here now. Of everyone who has worked here before.
At the office, we like to say that “When Texas is at its worst, the Texas Observer is at its best.”
Texas is a mess, y’all. Women are under attack. Queers and trans kids are under attack. People of color are under attack. Poor people are getting poorer. The old white dudes who run the state are trying to drive away anyone who isn’t straight, white, male, and Christian from Texas until only the craziest racists, queerphobes, misogynists, and Bible-thumpers remain.
We can’t let them. This is our state. We need to speak and fight for those who can’t. To invite people of color and women and those affected by the awful Greg Abbott’s cruelty speak for themselves, too, in our pages.
Texas needs an Observer. Democracy needs the Texas Observer.
On Wednesday, the board voted to rescind the layoffs. We now have a new, fired-up board with both old and new energy. We’re moving forward together to make sure this thing is around in six months. That we’re here in another 69 years.
The immediate crisis is over, but these are still dark times, and we need you. Sign up to subscribe. Sign up for our free newsletter. Get one of our t-shirts. Write me and tell me what you want to see in our pages. Stay with us.
I’m exhausted. All of us are.
But our hearts are full of gratitude to all of you. Thank you, from the core of my being, for believing in us. We’re still here today because of you.
Let’s keep fighting, folks.
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To show our appreciation for the readers who stopped us from going under, we recorded a little video …