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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Author: Morgan Grunow

Local News Now case study: Texas Tribune

In conjunction with our ethics conference, “Journalism Ethics & Local News Now” (April 23, 2021), we are publishing case studies from each of the news organizations represented on our panel “Innovations in Local News.”



Founded in 2009, the Texas Tribune is a non-profit, non-partisan news organization headquartered in Austin, Texas. The primary mission of the Tribune is “to inform and engage with Texans about issues that matter to them,” according to Ayan Mittra, the editor of the Texas Tribune. The goal for the Tribune is to be the news organization that assists Texans be more informed and educated about their state in relation to state government and politics. As a non-profit, the Tribune relies on donations, foundations and corporate sponsorships for its revenue.

The Problem

In 2009, founders of the Texas Tribune saw a problem in the media landscape: coverage of the state government was shrinking. Fewer journalists were reporting on laws circulating and passing in the legislature, leading to fewer citizens receiving news about their representatives and where and how tax dollars were being spent. The organization also aims to reach readers outside of the capital city of Austin, making sure its impact is felt statewide.

Ayan Mittra

“We feel that there’s a personal responsibility to address this [problem] because this is not being addressed on this scale by anyone else,” Mittra said.

In order to maintain its non-partisan status, the Tribune works to represent a wide spread of beliefs by engaging with and reporting on both parties, university systems and regions – a representation that also boosts readership. However, what becomes difficult is having sufficient resources to fulfill its responsibility of communicating this information to its readers and bringing accountability to those in power.

“People may not agree with everything we cover, but that’s not our job,” Mittra said. “Our job is to represent different points of view, to show how policies impact people on different areas, different levels.”


The Texas Tribune seeks to bridge the gap between government and the people through effective engagement with audience members. That engagement includes hosting events and providing data or educational resources. Additionally, as part of its mission of “public service,” the Tribune provides its news for free to both media partners and users to ensure accessibility.

The Tribune’s innovative use of data is a founding pillar of the publication and the organization used data to contextualize information that not everyone has equal access to. This has included developing a government salaries explorer, a public-school explorer, snapshots of different data sets and a project on police-involved shootings in the most populous areas of the state.

The Tribune is also working on ways to be innovative with elections. While it has always had a “robust” elections plan, its audience team has been working to reach out and understand who is consuming, how they are consuming and where the best place is to engage with them. For elections, this primarily looks like “resource-type content,” such as where and how to vote and the best ways to access primary ballots early.

“Teach Me How to Texas” is another way the Tribune addresses another knowledge gaps in the state. The Tribune knows that a lot of people are moving to Texas from other areas of the country and the world, and is working to provide information and resources on Texas, its government and elections.

“Innovation has to come from trying to understand who your audience is and what they need from you, and that really fuels some of the best ideas that we can do,” Mittra said. This includes asking for feedback on coverage from its viewers at events across the state, through its Facebook group and social media channels.


More than ten years into its project, the Tribune is looking at how to move forward strategically, including goals to increase and diversify its audience and expand to other areas of the state. To do so, the Tribune is working to base reporters in satellite locations throughout the state, so they are able to engage with communities beyond Austin and especially in rural communities.

The Tribune is partnering with ProPublica on an investigative team that includes an editor, five reporters, one data reporter, one engagement producer, one research reporter and a development associate. Mittra says this combines the “strength of ProPublica to do investigative, accountability journalism with an impact” with the Tribune’s knowledge of the state and engagement with Texans.

The Tribune is also ensuring sustainable by using different platforms for its audience and reaffirming the message that they’re meeting the audience where they are. Another part of this effort is implementing a “product culture” through the consistent promotion of content that keeps its value and viewership.

The main ethical consideration for the Tribune is making sure it’s being responsible with the data and information it has access to, and ensuring that this privilege is extended to its viewers. This includes analyzing and publishing data-informed journalism responsibly. Additionally, a consistent challenge entails prioritizing coverage of certain issues and being able to adequately communicate why these decisions are made to its base. Employees at the Tribune are ambitious in telling these stories, but constantly have to prioritize what is practically implementable.

Top Projects

Government Salaries Explorer

Texas Public Schools Explorer

Teach Me How to Texas

Elections Data

Additional Info

“Drawing on ten years of expertise, the Texas Tribune wants to coach you on its money-making lessons” (Nieman Lab)

“The American Journalism Project has raised $42 million. Here’s the plan for distributing it” (Poynter Institute)

A human and civic duty: mentioning climate change in weather broadcasts

Cloud-to-ground lightning 1. 5 miles west-northwest of Gilbert, IA.
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

About five years ago, veteran meteorologist Bob Lindmeier was pondering the disconnect between the science of climate change and the public’s understanding of it. Around the same time, he celebrated the birth of his first grandchild, a milestone that helped push him to change his approach to the weather segments he’d been doing, since 1980, at WKOW-TV in Madison, Wisconsin. 

“That’s when my focus started to shift not just to my lifetime, but their lifetime, and what the climate could very well be like when they’re adults,” says Lindmeier, who began tying climate change science into his weather segments. 

For a long time, weather forecasters were hesitant to discuss climate change, and some were even denying the science. According to Bud Ward, editor of Yale Climate Connections, the conversation changed about 10 years ago when a front page story ran in the New York Times.

Ward says the article was “about broadcast meteorologists who were basically key potential educators and informers or communicators on climate change science, but that they weren’t doing a very good job.”

Many factors have contributed to this lag in climate coverage, including lack of time or comfort on the part of broadcasters, concerns about viewership and management priorities. But according to Ward and others, broadcast meteorologists and weather forecasters have an important role to play in delivering accurate information about climate change.

As one of the more trusted broadcasters, meteorologists and forecasters need to consider their influence over viewers and how they can best use this connection to inform the public about climate change and its  impact on local weather.

Barriers to mentioning climate change

Part of the lag in coverage can be attributed to management and viewership issues, according to Lindmeier.

“There are some stations’ management that say, ‘We don’t want you to speak out about it,’” Lindmeier says. “Some of it is because they’re part of a conservative station group; they just have conservative leanings.”

Lindmeier also says that if a meteorologist or weather forecaster is new to the industry and trying to establish a loyal following, they may be more hesitant to discuss the issue. He reports losing some “long-term” viewers due to his broadcasting, but he has been willing to sacrifice that because “the upside of what [he is] doing…weighs so much more than the downside.”

While some broadcasters don’t have the knowledge to speak comfortably about climate change, the one-minute nature of a weather forecast may also be a barrier. According to Ward, the problem of brevity is compounded by the differential scopes between weather and climate: short-term and long-term, respectively.

Ward also cites the “media revolution” – the widespread migration from print to digital news – as part of the problem. Changes in funding have translated to lower staff numbers and not as many science reporters staffed to work alongside meteorologists. Justin Gillis, a columnist for the New York Times and former lead writer on climate science, also believes this to be part of the problem.

And yet, even with these barriers, Gillis does not let forecasters off the hook. 

“They are dealing with the weather on a daily basis and the problem people were observing and identifying is you [have] clear-cut events linked to climate change,” Gillis says. “It was not only not being mentioned by the weather forecasters, it was often kind of outright denial.”

Fortunately, there has been improvement over the past decade. According to Jeff Berardelli, meteorologist and climate specialist at CBS News, where climate change is concerned, reality has caught up. “I’d say the main reason is that climate change impacts are accelerating,” Berardelli says. “It is no longer far off in the future.” 

The role of weather forecasters in communicating science

Berardelli says weather forecasters have a responsibility to use their knowledge of climate change to inform the public.

“It is our duty to illuminate the issue with science, to educate the public and help viewers decipher what is true. It is both a science, and more importantly, a civic duty,” Berardelli says.

For much of the public, weather forecasters and meteorologists may also be their main point of contact with science.

“What I really emphasize to my viewers, or when I give a talk, is number one, this is not my opinion, this is what climate scientists are stating, and what I use a lot is peer-reviewed science,” Lindmeier says. “I use the trust I built up with my viewers and the public in general over 40 years so that they know that they can trust me when I say I’m giving them that peer-reviewed research, the accurate research.”

When the connection between climate change and weather events is straight-forward, the job is easy. And yet, according to Berardelli, this is not always the case.

“In other cases, the connection between climate change and weather is more gray and consensus has not been reached yet,” Berardelli says. “In those cases, it’s OK to tell the viewers that the science is not yet settled.”

The problem with causal links

When drawing connections between climate change and weather, Ward said weather forecasters and climatologists have grown eager “to show whether there’s a causal relationship or whether there’s just correlation between climate change and weather.”

However, Ward cautions that this is not the right relationship to be seeking.

“They probably shouldn’t ask, ‘Is that storm caused by climate change?’ They should ask whether it was influenced by climate change because there’s a much closer correlation between influencing than causing,” Ward said. “The answer may well be scientifically sound that (climate change) contributed to its frequency or severity, but not very sound in terms of whether that particular storm was caused.”

In relation to climate change’s influence, Gillis says that if and when events become more frequent, it is the job of a weather forecaster to report that.

“So when events happen, that we have the science…to say this is a lot more likely now that the climate is changing, it’s just irresponsible for people not to point that out on their weather forecasts,” Gillis says. “And the clearest case is heat waves. I mean if global warming means anything, it means that heat waves are going to increase.”

Ward also stressed the importance of not overstating climate change’s influence in weather events, such as flooding from storms.

“A good example is some of the storms that have hit the East Coast or the Gulf of Mexico, and some will say, ‘Well was that flooding caused by climate change?’ The answer may be no, but sea level is rising, in part because ocean temperatures are getting warm, so you’re starting from a larger foundation in the first place,” Ward says.

Berardelli also points to the importance of making the global phenomenon of climate change as local as possible.  In his forecasts, he talks about trends in local weather, such as temperatures or flooding, and talks about the impact these trends are having on his audience.

“We should show how those changes impact our viewers: should we plant our gardens earlier, buy more flood insurance and will our local ski resorts have enough snow to stay open?” Berardelli says.

Furthermore, Berardelli says meteorologists should be “empathetic about how people are impacted by climate change,” recognizing its uneven distribution, often affecting vulnerable populations the most. 

In the end, Berardelli, Lindmeier, Ward and Gillis all emphasize that the meteorologist’s responsibility is to deliver the truth.

“Regardless [of politicization], they should not shy away from their human duty of leveling with viewers by telling them the truth and their civic duty as an expert in conveying the science,” Berardelli says.

Resources for covering climate change:

Communicators have resources available to ethically and accurately cover climate science and weather. Lindmeier is part of the American Meteorological Society, which works to “promote the broadcast meteorologist to be the station’s scientist and use that as a way of talking about climate change.” is another resource available to professionals that provides peer-reviewed science in localized contexts for broadcasters to use in their segments. 

Lastly, National Climate Assessments are researched and compiled by the U.S. Global Research Change Program and delivered to the President of the United States and Congress every four years. Such assessments provide information on the impact of climate change on the U.S. and also break information down regionally.

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