Farewell Texas Watchdog

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Farewell, Texas Watchdog
Online venture loses funds.

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Terrence McCoy

Texas Watchdog, we barely knew you. After four years of some stellar muckraking but so-so writing that exposed malfeasance in HISD, dredged out some waste in stimulus dollars (who-woulda-thunk-it?) and exposed "gaping lapses in Texas ethics law," Texas Watchdog may disappear into the ether in two months.

Its funding from Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a libertarian organization, has run out and it hasn't found anyone to fill the void. Editor Trent Seibert, like some weary coach, took some of the heat. "We've done some really good stuff and I just wish I knew how to pay for it," he said. "I've loved following the money when it comes to dirty officials, but I'm not good at getting the money to run the organization. I'm not a businessman. Part of this is my fault. If I was better at the fund-raising side, maybe we'd be around a little bit more."

Franklin, Seibert said, gave them $300,000 to fund their online-only venture this last year — which was enough to pay six full-time reporters and editors. But not enough, at the end, Seibert said, "to keep the lights on."

It's possible that Franklin, which bankrolls most of the watchdog.org state ventures, may offer to hire on the Texas team, folding them into more national coverage, but Seibert and the rest have launched searches for outside employment.

"It's tough all around," he said. "If I had the answer on how to fund quality journalism, I would be talking to you from my Learjet as bikini models pour me champagne, but instead I'm talking with you over my shitty cell phone."

In the late 2000s, this sort of foundation-funded journalism was getting mad props, even amid ethical concerns about what was driving coverage. Journalists — otherwise cynical about everything — thought maybe if there were enough benefactors, we could continue to do our thing. Nonprofit organizations like ProPublica, the Watchdog network and GlobalPost all took money from philanthropists and foundations to do journalism. But the problem is, the money always runs out. Those organizations make short-term commitments — perhaps two years, maybe three, but that's it. And when the money's gone, it's gone.

Texas Tribune, another one of these Web sites doing investigative work on the foundation dime, has done better in some respects, netting a spot in The New York Times every Friday.

But how long will it last? And in the meantime, the search for how to put out stories with actual reportage that are worth reading — rather than shooting off more dense analysis into the digital echo chamber strangling our senses — continues.


Kid Dumped By Bus Driver
Left on the Street.

Margaret Downing

Mom Ashley Dorsey was pretty upset when she contacted us, saying her six-year-old son ended up walking on West Bellfort for an entire hour after school September 11 after being dumped nowhere near his home before a stranger picked him up and got him to police.

After the incident, Dr. Victoria Dunn, who is superintendent of the state-chartered Girls and Boys Preparatory Academy, 8282 Bissonnet, was making no excuses, saying, "There will be consequences" and that her human resources department will be talking with the driver.

"We apologized to the mom. It never should have happened," Dunn said. "We can't turn back the clock, but we can make sure it never happens again."

Dorsey said her son "had gotten into the wrong line at school" and that instead of being in the line for car riders, was in the one to get on the bus.

"My child has never ridden the school bus this year before. Long story short, he had gotten on the bus and the bus driver dropped my baby off where he has never been; my child told the bus driver that he didn't live there, but the bus driver didn't care and told my baby to get off the bus," she said.

A woman stopped and asked Dorsey's son if he was lost.

"My child was crying at this time, telling the lady he was trying to find his home," Dorsey said. "The lady took my baby to the police station. Thank God my child remembered my number and his grandfather's number."

Dunn said this wouldn't be a matter of installing new procedures. "We have procedures. We've just got to follow them." She said the driver had let the boy off with a lot of other kids, but what happened wasn't right.

She said Dorsey had been in to the school and the administration had apologized profusely. And Dunn said she was so glad that Dorsey's son was found safe, without any harm coming to him during his unintended long walk.

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