Christmas came early for the Fort Worth Report, but in an unexpected way.
On a Friday earlier this month, the owners of the coffeehouse where we had been leasing co-working space notified us that they were closing and that we had less than one business day to move. Because our staff had been growing so rapidly, we had planned to move, just not overnight.
Fortunately, we have made many friends since we debuted April 12. One of those friends stepped up and provided a perfect office space. By the following Friday morning, we were happily having our weekly staff planning meeting in Texas Wesleyan University’s business incubator office at 3114 E. Rosedale St.
Wesleyan President Fred Slabach graciously and quickly offered the space as our temporary home after I emailed him early Saturday about our predicament. Before the morning was out, Slabach had emailed me twice and identified the spot on Rosedale for us.
As part of my rounds of getting to know community leaders and telling them about the Report, I had visited Slabach at his offices a month or two before. We talked informally then about how it might make a lot of sense for our growing nonprofit news organization to have offices along Rosedale. Slabach already knew about us through our outstanding board of directors, made up of longtime Fort Worth community leaders.
Texas Wesleyan is trying to promote a Rosedale renaissance in southeast Fort Worth, and the Report is trying to do the same for local journalism. A key part of our mission also is to serve underrepresented communities, so a storefront along Rosedale moves us along that path.
The agreement is only until classes resume Jan. 19, but Slabach is working with us to see how we might stay longer term on Rosedale. Meanwhile, Chief Development Officer Trish Terrell and I are visiting a variety of possible office locations around Fort Worth.
We have a little time to catch our breath and think about all that’s possible in 2022. The possibilities far surpass our expectations for where we thought we’d be only eight months ago when we started with a staff of six, including three reporters and Managing Editor Thomas Martinez.
By the time we complete the hiring we have planned in January, we will have tripled our staff. That includes expanding our leadership team from Terrell and Martinez to include Jodye Newton as our director of corporate and community relations and John Greer as our director of audience and development.
Newton, who joins us after a long career in advertising at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Business Press, and Greer, a Fort Worth native who comes to us by way of the PMG national digital marketing agency, expand our capacity to build new revenue streams to go along with the tremendous support we’ve received from foundations and major donors.
Our reporting staff has much more than tripled when you consider we also were able to start a fellowship program this summer. Along with the fellowship program, foundations and donors have made it possible for us in January to set a lineup of reporting beats that align with the topics Fort Worth residents told us they wanted explored during our reader surveys and focus groups we did before launch:
- Two education reporters
- Two government accountability reporters
- Health reporter
- Environment reporter
- Community engagement journalist
- Arts and culture editor
- Business editor
- Business reporter
At the same, we have been working on a collaboration with KERA, the public broadcaster that has served Fort Worth-Dallas for 50 years. We co-hosted a mayoral candidate debate with KERA in May and since then have been talking about how our two nonprofit news organizations can align our efforts to provide much more local journalism in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
We see KERA as a way to have our Fort Worth stories also reach an audience across North Texas and around the country. In addition, the public broadcaster has five decades of knowledge about achieving financial sustainability in public media.
By working with the Report, KERA sees a smart way to serve Fort Worth with local journalism that better matches the audience support it has received here. We have many more next steps to work out, but an obvious one is to organize together more debates before the March primary.
The coming new year is more exciting than I ever could have imagined at this time last year when I was talking with the Report’s board leadership about coming on board as CEO and publisher. That’s because of the warm welcome and tremendous support all of you have given us. Everyone we meet says some variation of “thank you for coming to Fort Worth” and “what you’re doing is so needed here.”
At our staff Christmas party, I offered this toast, “Here’s to everyone working to create a renaissance in local journalism in Fort Worth.” I directed the toast to all the dedicated people at the party, but I also meant it for all our readers and supporters who made so much success happen so fast.
We will do our best to live up in the new year to the faith you have placed in us.
Chris Cobler is the CEO and publisher of the Fort Worth Report. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.