UPDATE: And just like that, the Observer is saved. (Here’s a bit more color from the New York Times.) In my initial write up, I noted the extreme asymmetry between right-wing funded media, which proliferates and serves mostly to stir up grievance among a terrified base who will then pass on tax cuts to the billionaire funders, and left-wing media, which basically has none of that. The success of this crowdfunding campaign offers some hope.
The Texas Observer is closing, reports the Texas Tribune:
The Texas Observer, the storied progressive publication known for its feisty, combative and often humorous investigative journalism, is shutting down and will lay off its 17-person staff, including 13 journalists, several members of its board said Sunday.
The decision marks an end to 68 years of publication, starting with its founding in 1954 by Ronnie Dugger and including a six-year period under the helm of the legendary Molly Ivins from 1970 to 1976. The magazine, in its first few decades, represented the liberal wing of the once-conservative Democratic Party. It was a thorn in the side of Lyndon B. Johnson when he was Senate majority leader (before he became president), Govs. Allen Shivers and John B. Connally, and other conservative Democrats. And it chronicled the era in which Texas was remade into a Republican stronghold that sent a governor, George W. Bush, to the White House.
The closing of the Observer raises questions about whether small progressive publications can survive the digital transformation of journalism and the information ecosystem during a time of rapid social, demographic and technological change.
I don’t track local media in Texas all that closely, though I know the Observer by reputation — how could you not when it counted the great Molly Ivans as an editor. Running a non-profit media company has always been a massive challenge, and it sounds like they ran into some real demographic changes.
What’s striking to me is how small the staff and budget actually were — fewer than 20 people, costing about $2 million a year. That’s not a lot of money, especially given the investigative work they were able to do. Compare that to the hundreds, if not thousands, of right-wing think tanks, blogs, and publishers that are awash in plutocrat money and whose sole purpose is to flood the zone with bullshit so their benefactors can reduce their own taxes.
The Texas Observer may not have been able to “to build a bridge to the younger, progressive generation,” but they were doing necessary work. This asymmetry helps explain, in part, why the right-wing is so effective at messaging: the right has donors who will spend tens of millions of dollars to create a false alternate reality that helps save them billions. How else does anyone explain the existence, let alone titanic stupidity, of Ben Shapiro.
Liberal donors instead prefer to spend big on causes that will reflect back directly on them, a sort of charismatic megafauna of philanthropy. Until liberals are willing to counter the right’s assault on reality, they shouldn’t be surprised they keep losing to just the absolute worst people on offer.