August 23, 2023

Driven by unsteady economic conditions and changes in the media industry, The Texas Tribune executed layoffs Wednesday for the first time in its 14-year history.

In an email to staff, CEO Sonal Shah wrote that 2023 has been a particularly challenging year for the outlet, which many have come to see as a model for nonprofit journalism. At a time when newsrooms across the country are shrinking, the Tribune has maintained a largely upward trajectory, growing both its staff and budget as it expands its coverage of the state.

That momentum appeared to come to a halt Wednesday when 11 journalists were laid off, some of whom had worked at the outlet for years. Tribune copy chief Emily Goldstein posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the paper’s entire copy desk was eliminated, and senior editor and writing coach David Pasztor shared that he and the paper’s demographics and criminal justice reporters were all laid off. The layoffs also included two longtime multimedia reporters, one of whom won the outlet its first national Edward R. Murrow award, according to a post by former Tribune reporter Elise Hu.

“This year has proven more challenging for us than others — changes in the industry, the 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 wrote in her email to staff. “There are, of course, other challenges facing the media industry: AI, uneven news readership and engagement, changing audience behaviors and the growing phenomenon of news avoidance.

“There is no media company — commercial, nonprofit or public — that isn’t experiencing some version of this.”

Despite the cuts, the Tribune will continue to grow its revenue team as the outlet had previously announced internally, Shah wrote. She also noted that the outlet needs “investments” in its development team.

The Tribune was started in 2009 by venture capitalist John Thornton and Texas journalists Evan Smith and Ross Ramsey, who had noticed a decline in the number of statehouse reporters. The three raised nearly $5 million and recruited many of the state’s top political reporters. The Tribune quickly made a name for itself with its political reporting and explanatory journalism, and by 2012, it had broken even.

Since then, the Tribune has consistently made a profit. In 2022, the most recent year for which information is available, the Tribune made $11.9 million in revenues, compared to $10.3 million in expenses. The Tribune’s 2021 annual report also shows revenues exceeding expenses; however, its 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service that year reveals a $1.5 million net loss.

The Tribune currently has more than 100 people listed on its staff page, and it won two national Edward R. Murrow Awards just last week, including one for its breaking news coverage of the Uvalde mass shooting.

The layoffs come at a time of turmoil within the news industry. Dozens of news outlets have initiated layoffs this year, including nonprofits and newsrooms that had previously been regarded as relatively stable. Those cuts include NPR, which laid off roughly 100 employees in March, and the Los Angeles Times, which announced 74 cuts in June, its first layoffs since billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong acquired the paper five years ago.

Global employment firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimated in June there were at least 17,436 layoffs in the media industry during the first five months of 2023 — a record high.

Update, Aug. 24, 2023: This story was updated to include the number of layoffs at The Texas Tribune, and to note that the outlet reported a net loss in 2021. 

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

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