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Our journey ahead

Tuesday, April 20, 2021 by Joel Gross

Everyone who has ever found themselves fighting the good fight for a nonprofit has a personal story about how they got there. I love hearing these stories, and while the details are always unique, they all follow the same humanizing arc: The storyteller cared about something so much that they had to get involved. 

My story for how I came to lead the well-respected and nonpartisan digital local news publication, the Austin Monitor, is one of those where I have to connect the dots looking backward. I could point to obvious moments, like seeing the collision of news and politics firsthand as a press secretary for a United States senator, or as a five-year-old, dressing up in “work” attire and emulating my dad reading the daily paper – a sacred routine in our house. 

But rather than a constellation of individual moments, my pathway to the Monitor was perhaps most influenced by the urgent questions more and more of us have been asking about our shared news and information space: Why does it feel so divided, what happened to local news and how do I know what to trust? 

Each of these questions deserves a deeper look, and I can assure you we’ll get there. This is the first in a series of posts in which I will share my mission notes from the Monitor and go head-first into the challenges, ideas and realities that are reshaping our shared information space. Our editorial work, the backbone of the Monitor, will stay separate and live on our website,

But for now, we have a special opportunity to see the Monitor’s work and mission in action. Early in-person voting for Austinites begins today, and on the ballot are eight propositions covering a range of high-profile and important issues. While Austin has a great record when it comes to voter registration (more than 97 percent of Travis County residents are registered to vote), our city – like most of the country – tends to fall short when it comes to May elections (in May 2019, only 6 percent of registered voters turned out in Travis County). 

The decision to vote at all largely comes down to the news and information that is offered and shared within a community. In order to bend this arc toward greater civic participation, the Austin Monitor has created a Voter Resource that is designed to help community members learn about the eight propositions on the ballot and become a part of the issues and decisions that are shaping our community. We view this resource – and all of our work – as a vital bridge between a healthy democracy and an engaged community.

To me, there’s no better introduction to this series than an election: a high-stakes civic intersection between information and action. But if that doesn’t speak to you, then maybe this will: You are already on this mission-based journey with us. Gone are the days when the news media was a fixed and exclusive one-way street. More than ever before, we all have the ability to shape our shared information space, and as of now, I can honestly tell you that I don’t know how our journey will unfold. 

But I do know what we’re fighting for, and I promise to serve as your dedicated guide along the way. We view this as a partnership, in which we are collaborating to strengthen the information landscape and our democracy together. I’m grateful to have you along. I couldn’t do it without you, and here’s to our journey ahead. 

Joel Gross is the CEO of the Austin Monitor. A graduate of UT Austin, he was previously senior director of programs at It’s Time Texas.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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