With the possible exception of Portland, Austin's penchant for navel-gazing is unmatched among U.S. cities of its size, or perhaps any size. Since at least 2005, when I went to work for the Capital Area Council of Governments and launched Data Points with Sean Moran, those of us in the analyst business have joked that Austin's self-preoccupation could support its own think tank.
Well, we just called our own bluff.
I am excited to join my friend, Dan Zehr, at the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, as the organization's inaugural research director, to help get this idea off the ground. I couldn't improve on Dan's explanation for why this is needed, so I won't try:
As a longtime Austin journalist, I’ve seen firsthand the effects of declining newspaper readership and civic engagement on the community. In my last newspaper job, as the economy reporter for the Statesman, I kept hitting the limits of what data and information could tell us about life in Austin. My colleagues and peers labored to deliver quality coverage of the region, even as our ranks thinned. We bemoaned the loss of interest we saw in news and civic life. And we tried to find new ways to create the data and evidence we needed to illuminate the forces that were changing our community, for better and for worse.
The new COTMF model begins to address these issues. It’s a new kind of civic institution – one that can begin to restore confidence in local government and local media, in part by building upon the confidence we still have in independent, nonpartisan research and analysis...
...It’s impossible to sit here today and promise that this new organization can ease the upheaval in Austin, in Texas or in any other community in the country. But we know the current environment will only result in a more deeply divided community, and we need to address the root causes.
If we hope to build the kind of vibrant and equitable community we believe Austin can continue to become, we know we will need at least these three elements: a robust independent press, an engaged citizenry and the evidence policymakers and citizens need to make informed decisions.
We look forward to sharing more details in the weeks to come and hope you will support this effort.