Getting Festive with Texas Tribune CEO, Evan Smith

By Pete Ramirez

The Texas Tribune, a digital, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, is hosting it’s eleventh annual Texas Tribune Festival beginning on Monday, September 20, 2021 and ending Friday evening, September 25, 2021. 

This festival brings together leading politicians and policy makers within local, state and national government to participate in a mix of one-on-one interviews, panels and networking sessions hosted by some of the premier journalists in the nation.

Students are eligible to purchase discounted student tickets to the virtual festival for $49 by following this link: https://festival.texastribune.org/. General admission tickets are $199.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the festival will be held entirely online in a virtual setting. “It’s the second and hopefully the last festival that will be virtual,” said Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune. 

Smith said that although his organization originally wanted to host a portion of the event in-person, completely pivoting to virtual allows the event to be more accessible to not only the politicians and policy makers, but to casual fans of the Tribune who can now participate from the comfort of their homes.

“We provide all kinds of opportunities for people to spend time with some of the biggest thought leaders and influencers around Texas and around the county,” Smith said. 

A few of the biggest names that will be attending the event are: U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones and former U.S. Representative, Beto O’Rourke.

For a list of all the speakers who will be attending the festival, follow this link.

“If you care about politics, if you care about policy, if you care about Texas, if you care about the world, there are going to be incredible opportunities that you would not otherwise have, to be part of conversations about those things,” Smith said.

Students who attend can benefit from the festival’s networking opportunities and grow their knowledge on nearly any subject they may be interested in.

“As a student, especially, this is a great moment to expand your thinking,” Smith said. The Tribune’s event provides a safe place for attendees to listen to views that challenge their preconceived notions on certain issues. 

“The goal is that there is something for everybody. And if you allow yourself to stray from the things that you are coming to see, there are going to be other things over here that you are not aware of but are going to be interesting also,” said Smith.

The Texas Tribune and their festival want attendees to walk away from their event better informed and more engaged citizens.

Smith also shared that there will be a session which is exclusively for students attending the festival.

Before our interview came to a close, Smith provided some words of wisdom for journalism students looking to enter the industry.

“The best advice I can give anybody wanting to break into the journalism business is you want to be a swiss army knife and not a meat cleaver,” Smith said. “We need people like that. We need multi-tool players more than we’ve ever needed them.”

A Wash of Green Paint

How Greenwashing Muddies Product Waters

Story by: Jace Puckett

2019 has been a relevant year for the green movement. In August, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg traveled to New York to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. As talk about climate change continues, we have seen a trend of companies within the last decade that market their products to be environmentally conscious. From Hydro flasks and Kånken bags to reusable metal straws, numerous products have been advertised as being “green” when in fact that is not always the case. A certain marketing tactic called “greenwashing” makes it difficult to tell what is or isn’t environmentally friendly. A spin on the word “whitewashing,” the act of concealing unpleasant facts about a person or organization, greenwashing is the act of disguising products and services as “green” or “eco-friendly” when in fact they aren’t.

“[Greenwashing is] inevitable because there’s a market advantage to having a product that’s differentiated by its green properties,” says Caleb Crow, the Energy Conservation Manager of the Office of Energy and Sustainability at Austin Community College. “If a green label is…raising the cost of whatever you’re talking about, that is a competitive disadvantage for that product, compared to a similar product that maybe didn’t go through a vetted process, but puts a similar-looking but rather meaningless label on the product to confuse a buyer, and then that product is, therefore cheaper, even if it’s in other ways similar. So greenwashing has a negative effect on the marketplace because people will be motivated by cost in many instances.”

Research on the effects of greenwashing on buyer decisions is limited, but there is certainly a demand for green products, to which companies are responding for better or worse. A 2010 study done by Richard Dahl suggests that buyer skepticism can make these misleading advertisements “risky ventures” for companies, many of which are simply trying to profit as much as possible.

“There’s been a lot of analysis of greenwashing, and the public has caught on to it,” Claudette Juska, a research specialist at Greenpeace, commented. “I think in general people have become skeptical of any environmental claims. They don’t know what’s valid and what isn’t, so they disregard most of them.”

The burden of proof often falls on the party making the claim, but several companies commit what has been termed the “sin of no proof,” one of seven “sins of greenwashing” named by TerraChoice. Because companies fail to provide proof of their environmentally-friendly claims or lie altogether (“sin of fibbing”), it may be up to buyers to determine which products are green and which are brown, the opposite of green.

However, buyers don’t have to assume full responsibility: “In terms of [the] Energy and Sustainability office for ACC, we’re doing research on individual product lines that we can then refer to individual buyers,” Crow said. “We have the benefit of being able to think ahead and research.”

ACC Highland Point of Light for Take Back The Night

Written By Ruben Hernandez
Video By Nathaniel Torres

Austin Community College hosted its first ever Take Back the Night event, focused on the support of those who have undergone sexual assault or domestic violence. The event not only offered a variety of resources, but also a march through the main Highland Campus building and a speak out, where survivors were able to share their stories.

“Take Back the Night is a great event for students to get in contact with faculty, staff, and the community,“ Compliance Investigator Austin Wood said.
“It gives a platform for individuals to express themselves and share their stories. It’s also an opportunity to meet advocates and allies, connected with a population of support and passion. It’s a night of celebration and really making it through the hard and tough times.”

Take Back the Night maintained a high emphasis on the aspect of bonds and community, stating several times that those who have undergone assault or abuse aren’t alone. There are resources and people to help.
“It’s not something that anyone should have to deal with by themselves if they do feel that way,” Wood said. “It’s a really difficult thing that individuals have to go through, such trauma and such harm. But to know that there are resources such as this event and a community within the college itself, it really provides an outlet to know that they are not alone.”

Most notably during the Speak Out session, survivors were able to share their stories
and explain how far they have come since being abused or assaulted. Whoever wanted to share their story was welcome to walk up to the mic and start.
“The Speak Out began with an awesome keynote speaker,” Social and Civic Awareness and Student Life Coordinator Carrie Cooper said. “She shared her story about her leaving an abusive relationship while starting here at ACC. I think that was encouraging to other students and faculty staff members to come share their stories.”

Media has definitely played a part in spreading the message, but hearing it first-hand seems to have a different effect.
“It’s one thing to see statistics and news stories, but it’s another thing to hear someone’s actual story,” Cooper said. “It helps you put a person to the issue and realize why it’s so important for all of us to stand up against sexual and domestic violence. When you actually hear people’s stories, it spurs you on like nothing else will.”

ACC is one of the many campuses in the nation that holds a Take Back the Night event, but it is one of 10 campuses that will be featured by the Take Back the Night Foundation.
“The 10 Points of Light are 10 different campuses and locations that will be featured by the National Take Back the Night Foundation on April 25,” Cooper said. “I lead the TBTN planning committee, and after I applied, the national foundation reached out to me and asked if ACC would be interested in being featured.”

Victims of sexual assault or domestic violence can be anyone of any gender, skin color, race, or sexual identity. People are different, but the stories can be similar.
“What I learned from Take Back the Night is that everyone is different,” Riverbat Ambassador Jesse Fraga said. “These people were here sharing their stories, and expressing how they feel.”

Providing opportunities for victims is something that is widely emphasized, and resources such as counselors and the SAFE Alliance were there at Take Back the Night to emphasize that.
“What stuck out to me the most was how powerful it is to hear from other people who have been where you are,” Cooper said. “I think it is encouraging in a way that nothing else is encouraging. It’s good for students to be able to hear other peoples’ stories, and realize that they’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with them.”

Fraga believes that support and encouragement are key to handling these types of situations.
“If that one person tells a friend about their situation, that friend needs to encourage that person to speak up,” Fraga said. “It’s really severe. That’s what Take Back the Night is about: how severe it can get and the support for those people. If you’re someone that has had a friend tell you about their tragedy, it’s our job to convince them to speak up or have them talk to a counselor because this can get very bad.”

With the recent #MeToo movement, sexual assault and domestic violence have become a more significant and serious topic. This was one of the things that started the effort to a better and more well-aware society.
“It’s a really hard and sometimes awkward thing to talk about,” Cooper said. “Obviously our culture has changed with the #MeToo movement. It still takes a lot to talk in front of a group of people in real life, which is a lot different than making a social media post. That still takes courage, but being present with people can make it healing in a way because you can see people who you see your own story in.”

People of all sorts of backgrounds have free access to these resources. No matter where you’re from or who you are, support is available for anyone in need of it.
“I think its a huge resource and shows that the college shows an emphasis on support,” Wood said. ”Everybody has a background and everyone goes through life experiences, and it’s important to know that there’s a place and an outlet for all individuals of diverse backgrounds. We all have different experiences and come from different places in life.”

The bond between community and victim is something that can make the world of a difference, and Take Back the Night was to serve as the connection between the two.
“I hear stories about how bad it can get without speaking up,” Fraga said. “I think that what the most important thing is: speak up no matter what. Whether you’re the friend or the victim, as a community we need to speak up louder and louder.”