Texas Tribune's Ross Ramsey on Constitution Day: 'This is the framework for the fight'

BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - Ross Ramsey is the co-founder and executive editor of the Texas Tribune, a non-profit news organization covering statewide politics and issues out of Austin.

Ramsey was a guest speaker at Blinn College’s Bryan campus on Constitution Day. While in town, he sat down with News 3’s Kathleen Witte on First News at Four. See the video player above for the full conversation.

News 3’s Kathleen Witte: You spoke at Constitution Day. How was that?

The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey: Yeah, I don’t know, they should have gotten a Constitutional expert I guess. I just talked to them about how much this is always in the news, how much the things they see all the times, whether it’s guns—which is a pretty big thing in Austin right now—immigration, foreign affairs; it’s all based in the Constitution.

KW: The Constitution is frustrating to me sometimes because it’s up for interpretation. We can’t ask the original writers what it meant. Is that part of the conversation?

Ramsey: It’s just a framework for argument. We used to have our fights in the streets with spears and swords and guns and all that. We decided to take them into buildings and fight in courtrooms and statehouses and capitols. This is the framework for the fight. It’s supposed to be a debate. It’s supposed to be a fight.

KW: The way the Texas Tribune is promoted is as a “non-profit and non-partisan” publication. You can prove “non-profit” with the numbers. How do you prove “non-partisan”?

Ramsey: You don’t prove it. We’re just trying to give them the whole view of things, so if there’s an argument about guns or there’s a debate about guns going on, [we say] “Here’s everything about guns that’s going on. You pick your side. You do whatever you want to do. But you know the whole field.” And hopefully, over time, people get a sense that they’re getting the full story—or as full of a story that we can present. We just do our best.

KW: I look at the Tribune’s website [texastribune.org] and there are a lot of stories about Republican lawmakers. I think there’s a pretty easy answer as to why there are a lot of stories about Republicans on your site.

Ramsey: We have 29 statewide offices in Texas, and every one of them is held by a Republican. When I started doing this, we had 30 statewide offices, and all of them were held by Democrats. You cover who’s in there. We’re not really there for the Republicans or the Democrats; we’re there for the scallywags. We cover whichever party they come from.

KW: Why is the “non-profit” part of the Texas Tribune important?

Ramsey: When we were setting this up 10 years ago, drawing on napkins, it was basically, “Here’s what we want to do. This is the kind of news organization we want. How do we pay for it?” It was two journalists and a venture capitalist, and we looked at the venture capitalist and said, “What do we do now?” It turned out that the non-profit model was the best model at that time. The regular things that support traditional media were a little dicier than they had been in 1960, 1970, so we were just looking for [the answer to] how do we support the enterprise that we want to support. Non-profit looked like the way.

KW: But now, as a byproduct, you’re not beholden to any corporation. You’re not beholden to sponsors.

Ramsey: You know, you are and you’re not. The problem in journalism is that you have to pay for it. You always have to figure out how to keep the people from who you are raising money out of the news business. That can either be advertisers. That can be big subscribers. It can be donors. You just have to have the same firewalls between news and commerce that you do in any business, whether it’s non-profit or for profit.

KW: Interesting. So you have a lot of the same considerations.

Ramsey: One of the things we do, for example: if you go to our website, you see everybody who’s ever given us a dollar and how many dollars they gave us.

KW: There’s a disclaimer under any story. Like, a story about Texas A&M, there’ll be a disclaimer at the bottom that says, “Hey, we’ve gotten money from A&M before.”

Ramsey: Right. So there it is, out in the open. Make your own judgment.

KW: That may be a tagline for Texas Tribune.