T-Squared: We’re creating our first-ever local news revenue and training lab

The Texas Tribune newsroom on Election Day in 2018.
The Texas Tribune newsroom on Election Day in 2018.
John Jordan/The Texas Tribune

Here at Texas Tribune HQ, the last couple of months have been … interesting. First we mounted our biggest and most successful ideas weekend ever: 450 speakers, nearly 9,000 registrants, $2.3 million in gross revenue. Then we announced plans for a massive investigative journalism strike force in partnership with our pals at ProPublica: five years, more than $8.5 million spent on deep-dive reporting, and eleven new hires. Then we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our launch — a legit milestone. Then we told the world that our editor-in-chief and chief audience officer are leaving the nest to start the next great nonprofit news org, creating two openings on our masthead that will be among the best jobs in the business.

Today I’m excited to share the latest big news from the Tribune: We’re creating our first-ever revenue and training lab — a freestanding entity, housed in our Austin newsroom, where we’ll experiment with innovative ways to fund local news, model best practices that we hope will benefit the entire ecosystem, and mentor and coach dozens of our would-be peers. Rodney Gibbs, currently our chief product officer, will shift from that role to become the executive director of the RevLab, as we’ve already started to shorthand it. He’ll soon be hiring a handful of people to join him in this noble pursuit of sustainability strategies for our industry.

The RevLab is a nearly $4 million, three-year initiative, and it will be funded by philanthropic support over and above our annual raise for operations. The good news is we’re already more than 60 percent of the way there: The Facebook Journalism Project has generously made a lead gift of $2.5 million to fund our earliest work — part of its overall commitment, announced in January, to spend $300 million “to help local news organizations grow and thrive.” We’ll raise the remaining $1.5 million from any number of generous organizations and individuals who believe, as we do, that we’re more all more thoughtful and productive citizens when we’re better informed and more civically engaged.

Of course, the Tribune has been in the modeling-of-best-practices business for a while now. Going back many years, we’ve been regularly hosting groups of news entrepreneurs — idealistic, visionary, eager to serve their communities — who want to better understand our approach to our work over the last decade. They’re interested in lessons learned, mistakes made, unexpected successes. They ask to tour our office, see our budget, spend time with our department heads. They hope to absorb the sales pitch to our members and donors: that this is as much or more about strengthening our democracy as it is about enabling great journalism. They ask to appropriate the tools and products we’ve built for their organizations. And they seek our guidance on the technical challenges all newsrooms face when it comes to realizing the full financial value of their work.

They don’t assume — we certainly don’t — that we have all the answers, but we may have some that apply to their situation back home. We’re happy to be a resource for our fellow travelers. We welcome them into our midst whenever they call, and all of this consulting and sharing, from day one through today, is free (it always will be). The creation of the RevLab is a formalizing of this process. It will allow us to dedicate time to and train our focus on helping more start-ups and even some existing orgs think creatively about the future of local news.

This is great news for the Tribune and, we think, for journalism. We’re honored to do this work and can’t wait to get started. Watch this space for more on the RevLab’s launch, job postings, and the ways communities around the country can benefit.

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