Texas Tribune Lays Off Journalists and Entire Copy Desk

The Texas Tribune announced layoffs Wednesday (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Another legacy newsroom has joined the alarming industry-wide trend of mass layoffs.

Wednesday, Texas Tribune Senior Editor David Pasztor tweeted a picture of Tribune colleagues Alexa Ura and Jolie McCullough, saying, “two of the greatest journalists I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. We were all laid off today as @TexasTribune attempts to reverse financial and leadership tailspin.” The layoffs also include Multimedia Producer Justin Dehn, Senior Video and Multimedia Editor Todd Wiseman, Copy Chief Emily Goldstein, and the entire copy desk.

According to a note CEO Sonal Shah sent to employees this afternoon, the layoffs are an attempt to refocus investment on boosting “new formats,” “new tools,” and “connect[ing] to new communities.”

Shah explained, “This year has proven more challenging for us than others – changes in the industry, unsteady economy and the need to explore new platforms and modes of storytelling are all things the Tribune must address head on. We know we must change to stay ahead.” Shah cites the industry-wide challenges of “AI, uneven news readership and engagement, changing audience behaviors and the growing phenomenon of news avoidance,” and says the Tribune is growing their revenue and development teams.

Current and former Tribune journalists took to Twitter to express dismay at the decision: former law and courts reporter Roxana Asgarian wrote of Ura and McCullough, “This was my whole team – the two longest tenured reporters at the Trib and one of the most respected editors in the business. I’m shocked at this choice. This is a mistake.” Women’s health reporter Eleanor Klibanoff, not among those laid off, wrote: “Two of our most tenured reporters, covering demographics and criminal justice, in a rapidly changing, heavily incarcerated, death penalty state… incomprehensible.” Higher education reporter Kate McGee Balagia, also not laid off, tweeted that Ura and McCullough “had nearly 2 decades of experience combined covering Texas. Today, they were pushed out, along with their editor who not only made their work sing, but helped so many reporters stumbling through the dark to see the light. Such a disservice to our readers.”

A freshly laid off Copy Chief Goldstein noted that, “in the less than two years we’ve been keeping track, the copy desk has saved the Trib from publishing more than 600 errors.”

The news comes just months after the Texas Observer narrowly avoided folding with a last-ditch GoFundMe set up by the staff. The Tribune has long seemed the best equipped news outlet to weather the storm financially – as Shah herself wrote, “over the past 14 years, the Tribune has been a pioneer in nonprofit news and has shown how a statewide nonprofit media model can sustainably address the information needs of so many as state and local news offerings continue to decline.” Today’s news is a harrowing reminder of the state of journalism as a whole – even the mightiest aren’t immune.

In response to the Chronicle’s request for comment, the Tribune sent its vision statement published June 7, in which a newly instated Shah promises that the Tribune will be a digital pioneer and that she will bring “renewed clarity of focus on product, audience and impact.” She also references increasing the amount of revenue streams: “I highlight revenue for a very specific reason: Revenue is what enables our impact to grow.”

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.