The El Paso Community Foundation and the former El Paso Times executive editor, Robert Moore, are teaming up to launch a nonprofit online publication dedicated to local news reporting.
The working name is El Paso Matters, and it would be the Community Foundation’s second attempt at establishing an online news publication since it shut down Newspaper Tree in 2014.
The foundation’s president and CEO, Eric Pearson, said Moore came to him about a year ago with the proposal to give it another try, and they have been talking about it and working with others on the venture since.
“We’ve got an agreement, and we’ve started a corporation,” Pearson said. “Bob is a person of high journalistic integrity, and I feel like it’s a great opportunity to help him provide this additional voice to the community, focusing on community oriented and investigative journalism.”
“This is essentially Bob’s vision, and we want to be in support of that. Right now, we’re really looking at raising some money around it.”
Moore, 58, will be the president and CEO of El Paso Matters when it begins publishing. He’s aiming to launch it by the end of the year.
A 36-year veteran in journalism, Moore left as editor of the Times in 2017 to preserve staff positions in the face of mandated budget cuts from the USA Today Network, which is operated by Gannett Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the nation.
The Times’ daily circulation, once over 100,000, is now under 20,000 and the paper has made further personnel cuts since Moore’s departure due to declining circulation, advertising and the lack of sufficient income from its digital operations.
Pearson and Moore agree that starting an online newspaper should be easier now than it was when Newspaper Tree went under because there’s more foundation money available for the support of nonprofit journalism.
“The Knight Foundation just announced that they were doubling its commitment to local nonprofit journalism from $150 million to $300 million over the next five years,” Moore said. “I think there’s a realization in a lot of the nonprofit sector that the decline in media we’re seeing in this country is an existential threat to democracy.”
El Paso Matters already has a fundraising website set up at www.epcf.org/epmatters and it’s on Facebook.
“The idea of nonprofit as the model has really taken hold, in part because of the success of Texas Tribune and The Lens in New Orleans,” Pearson said. “Nationally, there’s ProPublica and a lot of other really solid nonprofits that are doing great journalism.
“Online may be the place where, from a community and national level, the trust in journalism comes back.”
El Paso Matters is a registered state corporation and will rely on the Community Foundation as a sponsoring organization until the IRS approves its nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status.
Moore was editor of the El Paso Times twice. He left as editor in 2005 to become editor of the Fort Collins Coloradoan and returned to take over the Times again in 2011.
Since leaving the El Paso Times, he has worked as a freelance reporter on major stories focused chiefly on the border migrant crisis for The Washington Post and Texas Monthly magazine.
He conceded that giving up that kind of freedom and opportunity to work close-up on important stories won’t be easy.
“But my goal, just to be blunt about it, is to build the largest news organization in El Paso using philanthropy and member sponsorship events,” he said. “It depends on how much money we raise, but I think getting fairly quickly to a newsroom of eight to 10 journalists would be very good for this community.”
So far, he said, he’s gotten positive feedback from major organizations in the business of promoting journalism and providing start-up funding for online publications.
Moore said that while print publications, especially daily newspapers, are struggling because of declines in subscribers and advertising revenue, nonprofit online publications are finding more support.
“It’s kind of a booming media area right now – probably the only growth area – and there are communities across the country that are benefitting from very robust news organizations, including a number in Texas,” he said. “El Paso, uniquely among major cities, continues to fund all of its major journalism positions through advertising revenue.
“That’s a dangerous place for a community to be, and it’s one of the things we’re addressing with this approach to diversify the funding streams for journalism in our community.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.