By Robert Rivard
Labor Day is by tradition a day of rest from work, a day of parades, backyard barbecues, football games for some, the last days before back-to-school for others, a spree at the mall for many. Here at The Rivard Report, it’s a quiet celebration. Our little labor of love is six months old and counting.
Our first posting came on Feb. 13 when we launched as a beta site, and our WordPress site customized by friends working at Geekdom arrived the second week of May. We’ve posted nearly 200 articles, slide shows of still photography and original videos in that time.
Return to the home page for a moment and enjoy “Yoga in Unusual Places,” the work of San Antonio photographer Arielena Reed. Our home page slide show, which changes every few weeks, has showcased some remarkable San Antonio photographers, including Scott Martin and Peter French, both of whom have exhibitions in Fotoseptiembre. We hope as word spreads that other, underappreciated photographers will showcase their work here.
The Rivard Report isn’t just my blog. My original goal was to continue to be an observer of public life in San Antonio, even after my work as a newspaper editor came to an end in 2011. San Antonio, I believed then and believe now, was on the cusp of extraordinary change, and such transformation can be accelerated by journalists with a passion for a changing city. We quickly found an audience for that viewpoint, but we also found something else. A lot of other people who care about this city and its trajectory also want to express themselves to a larger audience, but they have lacked a platform. We’re building that platform. More than 30 individuals have contributed original content to the site.
No one has contributed more than my wife, Monika Maeckle, who writes about urban nature here, an extension of her own blog, the Texas Butterfly Ranch. It seems fitting in a city founded by people drawn to its moving waters that we chronicle our relationship with the environment as a critical element of progressive urban transformation. The rebirth of the San Antonio River serves as the most powerful symbol of that relationship. Her writing about the river, its bat colony, the city’s heritage trees, and yes, the migration of monarch butterflies through our city (coming this October!), has added a welcome dimension. Perhaps her most widely read story to date remains her guide to replace St. Augustine grass with native wildscape.
We’ve published young creative class professionals, some native, some new to San Antonio. We’ve published young journalists like Callie Enlow, whose April article, “Left Behind: Why People Leave San Antonio,” remains the second most widely read story we have published, in turn generating a continuing string of stories on a changing city’s strengths and deficiencies. In response, we’ve also published UTSA economist Michael Cepek, and his response, “Young, Educated and Happy in San Antonio.” It’s a fascinating and civil dinner party conversation, unfolding one viewpoint at a time over many months.
Our appeal, we think, is that we do not publish journalists only. We’ve published elected officials, arts leaders, architects, inner city developers, tech workers, other bloggers and small business owners. Miriam Sitz, who by day works at Accion Texas, the microlender, has become one of our most prolific contributors. Like many talented and versatile members of her generation, Sitz also maintains her own well-crafted blog, miriam210.com, where she holds forth on food, drink and life here, there, and just south of Southtown. The food scene in San Antonio has evolved dramatically in recent years and more is coming. It’s a conversation we expect to join in our next six months.
So we’re still new, and we’re still taking shape. every week, someone new walks through the door, or arrives via email, offering to write, intrigued by the opportunity to do more than just comment on someone else’s work. My first posting in February openly celebrated the great changes taking place along the Broadway corridor, spurred by the Pearl and the redevelopment of the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, and a similar acceleration of change in Southtown. Within days, Jeremy Fields, an expatriate architect who left his job at Lake/Flato to live and work in Germany, submitted his own article, “San Antonio? Not Anytime Soon,” challenging my assertions. His published viewpoint set off a chain reaction that continues today with individuals contributing original articles defending or attacking he joys and frustrations of life and work in San Antonio. It’s a healthy and vigorous debate.
People have told us they were turned off by snarky, anonymous commentary so common to media websites that often deteriorate into racism, homophobia, and in general, coarse, confrontational postings that contributes nothing to the public conversation and causes many people to keep their views to themselves rather than risk such attacks. The Rivard Report moderates commentary. That has undoubtedly cost us traffic that might impress some advertisers, but it’s created an environment where readers are unafraid to identify themselves, disagree respectfully, and appreciate other points of view. Readers who want to do more than leave a comment have found themselves invited to take over the home page with their own original writing.
The site launched and developed in its first months thanks to some fanatical support. It began when Rackspace co-founder and chairman Graham Weston called me only days after I left my newspaper life to urge me to embrace a more digital approach to keeping my voice in the local mix. Through Weston, I’ve come to know fellow co-founders Pat Condon and Dirk Elmendorf, and other successful entrepreneurs like Nick Longo, now managing director of Geekdom; Jason Seats, managing director of Tech Stars Cloud; and Lorenzo Gomez, executive director of Weston’s philanthropic 80/20 Foundation, who reminded me you do not need to be a billionaire to make a difference when he and his new wife, Kara, gave away their wedding to charity. I can’t leave out David Barnett, a former colleague from mysanantio.com, who functions as a sort of Sancho Panza to Weston’s Don Quixote (and I mean that in the sense of the two characters’ capacity for dreaming big). Just having The Rivard Report offices one floor away from Geekdom has changed my entire outlook on the definition of work.
It’s been equally inspiring to meet so many young, talented people with a commitment to making a difference in San Antonio. Some, like Kelly Beevers and Ellie Leeper, have contributed to our “Where I live” series by writing about the newest downtown developments. Others, like Bekah McNeel, who also has become a regular contributor, have profiled the historic neighborhoods where they live.
Iris Dimmick, a recent arrival to San Antonio and Southtown, is our newest intern. A journalism major from Central Washington University, she’s comfortable reporting and writing, or shooting photos. She follows two other remarkable young people who worked with us this summer. Don Dimick, no relation, is now a senior at Trinity majoring in communication and media studies. Dimick started our periodic Friday feature, San Antonio in Motion, which highlights the work of local filmmakers and videographers.
Our other summer intern, Carolina Canizales, found her way here thanks to the writer John Phillip Santos, who met Canizales after he joined the faculty at UTSA and she became one of his honors college students. Canizales is a DREAMer, an undocumented resident who came to Texas from northern Mexico as a four-year-old with her sister and her mother, who has worked for more than two decades as a house cleaner in Alamo Heights to support and educate her children. Canizales is now a full-time activist in the national immigration reform movement. We hope someday to publish an article by her on becoming a U.S. citizen.
The next six months should be eventful ones, starting Tuesday evening when Mayor Julián Castro takes national stage at the Democratic National Convention. The November presidential elections will dominate the public conversation for the next two months, but we also will be paying attention to Castro’s Brainpower Initiative that will be on the same ballot. The dust will hardly settle from the elections when both CPS Energy and SAWS come before the City Council to make their case for rate increases to meet a growing population and demand. Few are focused yet on the next session of the Texas Legislature, but education and water both loom large as issues demanding attention and funding, and one only needs to look back at the last meeting of the Legislature to know San Antonio will get little help from state elected officials in charting its future course.
Next year also will bring the completion of the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, new residential developments, and changes and challenges no one can yet anticipate. The conversation about a downtown grocery store will continue, too, no doubt. There will be plenty to keep us busy in our second six months. We invite all of you to be part of The Rivard Report.
Thanks for your support.