Who We Are
The Dallas Observer is an independent local newspaper and website whose small but scrappy staff of journalists have covered the Dallas stories that other media outlets ignore since 1980.
From the day we were founded, the Observer has been free to our readers. We remain dedicated to providing our reported local journalism to everyone at no charge, regardless of their financial status.
How can we do it? We've always relied on advertisers to generate the revenues that make our rent and pay our staff. Most of those advertisers were local mom 'n' pops, and their support meant we were able to give our newspapers away. We've never put up an online paywall, either.
That advertiser-supported model worked very well for a very long time, helping us endure severe economic downturns from the recession of the early 1980s to the crash that followed 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008. We were able to bounce back from those setbacks because as local businesses recovered, they started advertising again and we all made it through.
Through it all, the Observer has always embraced change. In the late 1990s, we were among the first alt-weeklies to commit to digital journalism, restructuring our workflow to publish stories web-first and creating the highly popular "Unfair Park" news blog. That decision turned us into something we'd never been: a daily newsroom. Through the aughts, we continued to build up our online presence, publishing multiple stories each day about local news, music, arts and food. For the first time, we were competing against major local daily papers for breaking news -- and often winning. Our progressive approach to social issues allowed us to lead the way on issues such as Dallas' history of race relations.
Another change occurred in 2013, when a group of longtime employees purchased the Observer's parent company from its original owners, whose success in Phoenix had led them to build the nation's largest chain of alternative weekly publications. Faced with an array of challenges posed by a bruising business environment for media organizations, the new company, Voice Media Group, set about shoring up pillar publications like the Observer, rededicating itself to their success and their survival. Several out-of-state publications were sold, and a new digital marketing agency was created to help generate new revenue streams. A commitment was made to distribute our journalism widely on social media platforms, engaging readers where they lived.
One result of the Observer's forward-looking approach was a growing number of readers who didn't necessarily live in Texas but appreciated what we were doing. Whereas in the early days of print our distribution was limited to DFW -- thanks to those eye-catching red-and-yellow newsracks! -- our stories were now available to anyone with an internet connection. Some of these readers were Lone Star expats longing to read about their hometown. But many were people whose connection to our journalism was more gut-level than it was geographic. Just like our loyal hometown supporters, they were drawn to our pointed coverage of immigration and other hot-button political issues, our freewheeling approach to writing about pop-culture, our sophisticated understanding of the city's ever-evolving restaurant scene, and our irreverence and willingness to highlight this city's most creative spirits.
Innovation stems from talent. And talent is one thing the Observer has always had in abundance. From the start, we've hired a special breed of reporter. Our music and arts sections have long offered the city's sharpest perspective on Dallas culture thanks to writers like Eva Raggio and Paige Skinner. In 1994, our film critic Matt Zoller Seitz was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (but of course we also covered the drive-in side of the world with Joe Bob Briggs). Back in the 1980s, we were one of the first alt-weeklies to hire a full-time restaurant critic. Since then we've only strengthened our commitment to covering the food scene, and the rest of the world has noticed. Today, Brian Reinhart is recognized as one of Dallas' premier restaurant critics. In 2013 our Alice Laussade won a James Beard Journalism Award for her "Cheap Bastard" columns; she's since been joined in the Beardian ranks by our former food editor Hanna Raskin, now at the Post & Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, where she remains a highly influential voice on the nation's restaurant scene. Another former food editor, Beth Rankin, is now an editor for the Denver Post. Over the years our news reporters -- people like Jim Schutze, Robert Wilonsky, Ann Zimmerman and Laura Miller (later elected mayor of Dallas) -- have regularly taken home national and regional journalism awards. Seven Observer writers have been finalists in the Livingston Awards, the country's most prestigious honor for young journalists; in 2007, Megan Feldman and Jesse Hyde both snagged the honor. And thanks to our stubbornly irreverent commitment to mocking the mighty, parody is still legal in the state of Texas.
The State of Media Today
For several years now, media organizations large and small have been hit by a perfect storm of financial pressures. As readers shifted from print to online, advertising rates dropped steeply. Tech giants began sucking up most of the remaining local advertising dollars. More recently, huge numbers of our advertisers have either closed entirely or temporarily stopped spending in the wake of the coronavirus. That has led us to completely rethink how we operate. We remain committed to keeping our journalism free and avoiding paywalls or mandatory subscriptions. But the long-term challenges organizations like ours face in generating advertising dollars aren't going away. That's why we're now working toward a goal of generating at least as much revenue from readers as we do from advertisers.
Today we remain dedicated to developing local journalistic talent -- and to figuring out how to keep growing at a time of great challenges in the media business. We want to grow the right way -- by doubling down on our commitment to serving our readers, without whom we couldn't do what we do. If we can keep writing stories that are important to you, and that tell you important things about the city we all love, we think we can survive this latest crisis, too.
Some core beliefs underpin that effort. We believe that in a modern age of disinformation when a large part of society is openly at war with the press, it's more important than ever for cities to have locally based reporters keeping an eye on the powers that be. We believe that fact-based reporting can help people see through the cynicism so prevalent in modern politics and inspire in them a more hopeful approach to participatory democracy. Our standard in framing and reporting stories is intellectual honesty. A crook is a crook, a liar is a liar, a hero is a hero, and these are demonstrable things.
We're the publication whose former editor-in-chief, Julie Lyons, wrote what may be the definitive story about the city's tragic 1990s crack wars; where Megan Feldman provided the nation's first account of immigrants traveling north on the dreaded 'El Tren de la Muerte'; where Jim Schutze made a sport of laying bare the pretensions of the local power elite, from boondoggles like the Trinity River Toll Road to the city's bizarre crusade against Jim's Car Wash.
But from the beginning the Observer was about more than hard news. We also believe in celebrating Dallas culture, covering our city's music, arts and dining scenes with the same attention to detail that we devote to our news stories. We've given you concert reviews to save you from bro-country; celebrated homegrown talent with our Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase; walked you through Dallas' 100 Best Restaurants; and trained a spotlight on the city's cultural gems each year with our Best of Dallas issue.
What You Can Do to Help
We're calling our membership campaign "I Support," and we're basing it on a simple premise: Good local journalism requires interest and demand from engaged local readers, and we know we have a loyal audience that wants to support our efforts.
We want to keep covering Dallas the way it deserves to be covered. That means remaining independent and avoiding paywalls – but still bringing in enough money to fund our journalism.
You can help by contributing as little as $1, or by signing up for one or more of our email newsletters. And if you commit to becoming a monthly or annual recurring member, we'll throw in something extra: an absolutely ad-free online reading experience. That means you can read your favorite Observer news, music, food and arts stories with no digital interruptions.
We'll put whatever money you contribute toward producing high-quality local journalism. That makes you our first step in developing a viable, reader-funded editorial model.Join Our Cause