By Mariah Bennett | Staff Writer
The Texas Tribune Festival marks its 11th year, featuring panel discussions, interviews and programs about today’s news, politics and public policy. According to Evan Smith — CEO and founder of the Texas Tribune — since the first festival in September 2011, it has continuously grown and become a critical part of the events hosting news organization overall.
Included in the virtual lineup was the panel Unmaking of the Big 12. It was featured Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and was an interview and discussion on the sudden decision by the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas to depart from the Big 12.
It featured the perspectives of Baylor President Linda Livingstone and Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec. Cedric Golden, a sports columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, moderated.
“What our responsibility is now is to look to the future of the Big 12, to look at what is in our best interest, to strengthen the conference,” Livingstone said. “I believe we’re committed to doing that.”
Livingstone also spoke specifically of the economic impact Baylor and Texas Tech have on their respective cities with decisions moving forward.
“We are all obviously deeply committed to our communities,” Livingstone said. “We recognize the decisions we make and the things we do have a huge impact on the cities we’re in.”
The attendees discussed the opportunities Baylor will have due to the sudden departure by the two schools, specifically that of the University of Texas.
“With the University of Texas out of the picture soon, it will be Baylor’s moment,” Smith said. “It will be an opportunity for Baylor to sort of inhabit that space. I’m honestly excited to see what Baylor does.”
This year’s festival featured over 190 speakers and a lineup of 60 discussions from Sept. 20 to Sept. 25. Panel speakers have included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, NBA Hall of Famer Chris Bosh and Livingstone.
“These kind of events are journalism,” Smith said. “We see them as no different from the reporting that we do.”
In addition to the previously mentioned panels, discussions included issues such as abortion, climate change and voting rights.
The festival’s diverse lineup in topics and speakers is due to the Texas Tribune’s continuous mission of public service.
“Our mission is to inform and educate people in the state of Texas, to create more thoughtful and productive citizens and to motivate civic participation through our reporting,” Smith said.
Smith noted the relevance Texas currently has within the national news industry, comparing today’s amount of news to drinking from a fire hose at the highest setting.
“Texas is the center of the news universe always, but it’s especially the center now, in ways that are both good and bad simultaneously,” Smith said. “It’s a Texas festival … It’s about Texas, and it’s also about national [topics].”
According to Smith, while there are currently no definite numbers, the turnout has been great for the event. The event is virtual for the second time in its history due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“We’ll certainly talk about whether we have a small portion — 20% of our program — that is virtual even if we go back to doing it in person,” Smith said. “We have the opportunity to participate who wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”
The festival continues until Sept. 25. This year’s festival differs from the 2020 festival, which lasted a month.
“We’ve really leaned in completely this year to the issues out in the world,” Smith said. “We’ve done a really good job of leveraging the moment.”