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The seeds were planted five years ago to rename the Rivard Report. That is when longtime friends and fellow free press advocates John and Ann Newman, who oversee the Newman Family Foundation in San Antonio, convinced me and my wife and co-founder, Monika Maeckle, to reorganize the Rivard Report as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
The scene was a now-defunct Southtown restaurant where we shared a patio table on a cool summer evening in June 2015. I don’t remember what we ordered, but I’ll never forget the long conversation we had about how to sustain the Rivard Report, which by then was 3 years old and richer in readers than in revenue.
The husband-and-wife blog we launched in early 2012, some months after I left my post as editor of the San Antonio Express-News, had grown into a respected community news site. We had just enough revenue to pay a handful of full-time employees but not enough money to grow more. Or to pay me.
Readership was growing, literally, every single month, but our small staff worked ridiculously long hours to meet those growing expectations. The more we published, the more people expected. Access to the site, then as now, was free.
As a startup, we had convinced ourselves that long hours and low pay was how you build value and attain sustainability. Our first reporter, Iris Dimmick, and first photographer, Scott Ball, both still with us today, were young and energetic but terribly overworked. We were on the road to burnout.
We envisioned the day we’d be profitable and use those profits to scale up. The truth is we were a no-profit. As a nonprofit organization, John Newman reasoned, our media site would be a community trust, and readers would become supporting members. As a 501(c)(3), we could apply for grants from foundations like the one the Newmans oversee. Tax-deductible contributions would enable us to achieve the staff growth we needed, Newman correctly predicted.
I embraced the idea. Other benefactors were there for us, too, community leaders like H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt; Rackspace Chairman and co-founder Graham Weston; Rackspace President Lew Moorman; Richard T. Schlosberg III, retired newspaper executive, nonprofit leader, graduate of the Air Force Academy, and co-founder of the service academy’s endowment; and other notable individuals in San Antonio willing to make multi-year financial pledges once the conversion was official.
We filed the paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service in early August 2015 and chose a new name: San Antonio Report. The papers we subsequently filed with the Texas Secretary of State would keep us doing business as the Rivard Report. Behind the curtain, however, we were the San Antonio Report. Some day, we reasoned, we just might grow into the name.
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By early December, the IRS had approved our application. Foundation and philanthropic support arrived faster than we had imagined. We began to hire more journalists and to build a team to support the nonprofit.
We assembled a small, highly motivated board of directors. Schlosberg was the first chairman, which gave us instant credibility with many potential donors. Newman, well known in philanthropic and nonprofit circles, agreed to serve as vice chair, and five years later became our second chairman, a role he fills today. Schlosberg now serves as chairman of our board of community advisors.
Our staff has grown to 19 full-time staff, two contributing columnists, and a number of freelance journalists. We regular employ (and pay) interns interested in a career in journalism or the nonprofit world. Our books are balanced. Audience, membership, and revenue continue to reach new heights each quarter.
The four of us who came together for that dinner five years ago celebrate the occasion every summer. This year, we arrived wearing masks, and more than celebration was on the menu.
This was the year, we agreed, to change our name. The Rivard Report had grown into a citywide media enterprise with a full calendar of civic engagement events. We had earned our new name.
We now work at the San Antonio Report. The quality of our work will not change. Neither will our mission. We will still depend on all of you to support our work.
The name signals our intention to serve the community for years to come. It’s the first step in a carefully thought-out plan of succession. There is always a time when a founder should give way to the next generation of leadership. For us, the next step is to seek a new publisher and CEO. I will continue for some time to hold the title of editor, but the day is coming, sometime in 2021, when we will launch a search for a new editor, too.
My plan is to write my weekly column, continue serving on the board, and assist new leadership to the best of my ability. Other projects await. I am eager to find the time and space to write another book, and if the world rights itself post-pandemic, Monika and I look forward to traveling again. I spent many of my earlier years as a journalist traveling the world, but there are places I missed. The open road calls.
I’ve been a working journalist since I landed my first job as a sports reporter and desk man at the Brownsville Herald in 1977. It’s a career that has taken me everywhere, and since 1989 given me a front-row seat on life in San Antonio. Starting and leading the Rivard Report has been one of the most meaningful jobs I’ve held in that 43-year span.
Some people pay millions to get their names on buildings. I watched with pride this past week as my name came off the front window and doors of our offices at 126 Gonzales St. and San Antonio Report took its place. It’s a new day here.