On June 28, the American Prospect announced that Bob Moser, editor of the Texas Observersince October 2008, would become its new executive editor. Moser has a long and celebrated career in progressive journalism. Before moving to the Observer, he wrote and edited for The Nation , and was also the investigative editor at The Investigative Fund from 2006 to 2007.American Prospect editor Kit Rachlis said in a press release that “the work he [Moser] did in transforming the Texas Observer was remarkable. Under his leadership that storied publication became vital again.”
In 1954, the Observer was founded by Frankie Randolph, a devout Democrat and the heir to a successful lumber business, and Ronnie Dugger, a liberal journalist, editor, and author in Austin, Texas. The pair wanted to establish an alternative paper in the Lone Star State. Their publication became known for its top-of-the-line investigative reporting and dedication to picking up stories that were ignored by the mainstream media, making it a magnet for investigative journalists. One of the most notable was Molly Ivins, the legendary muckraking reporter who served as the paper’s co-editor and political correspondent from 1970 to 1976 (when she was hired by the New York Times). In 2006, the Observer created the annual Molly National Journalism Prize to honor journalists from around the country who write powerful investigative journalism, as Ivins did.
The Observer’s renowned investigative reporting thrived under Moser. In 2009, Dave Mann — the executive editor and a former Investigative Fund reporter — wrote the series “Burn Patterns,” investigating two questionable arson convictions in Texas. Mann’s work won him best investigative reporting piece for circulation under 50,000 at the 2010 Alternative Weekly Awards. The Observer was also nominated for six AltWeekly Awards in 2011. Three of them were investigative reports: Melissa del Bosque’s “Children of the Exodus,” another Investigative Fund project, came in third place in the feature story category. Del Bosque’s article followed the large number of unaccompanied children who are deported to Mexico each year due to US immigration laws. Forrest Wilder’s “Agency of Destruction,” about the corruption in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), took second place in investigative reporting; and Mann’s “A Bloody Injustice,” which dug into a wrongful murder conviction based on faulty forensic testimony, claimed first place for a long form news story. Another investigative article that drew a lot of attention was Renee Feltz’s “Cracked” (also made possible by The Nation Institute), which focused on Texas’ questionable determination of the mental capabilities of criminals on death row.
While at the Observer, Moser also hired Abby Rapoport, an investigative journalist who previously worked for the Texas Tribune (another highly regarded non-profit Texas news organization). Rapoport works to exposing the huge cuts to education that the state is making; she also reports on the goings-on of Texas’ Congress, carefully tracking education and budget bills as they make their way through the legislature. Mann, when asked about theObserver’s investigative journalism under Moser, said that he “oversaw and edited outstanding investigative pieces in the finest Observer tradition.”
As well as winning awards, many of these stories had real-world impact. “Cracked” prompted the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists to issue a reprimand against Dr. George Denkowski, a psychologist who was using his own testing methods to put mentally disabled criminals on death row; as a result, Denkowski can no longer assess criminals, and those he previously evaluated may be able to challenge their death sentences. “Agency of Destruction” prompted Texas officials to call for investigations into TCEQ; even Congressman Michael Burgess, who Wilder calls a “high-ranking Republican,” called for an investigation and attracted even more scrutiny when, five days later, he completely switched tracks to try to fall back into step with fellow Republicans.
In a press release announcing his hire as the Observer editor in 2008, Moser said his goal was to “deploy our tough, thorough, hard-nosed reporting to nudge the state in a progressive direction.” True to his word, Moser and his team of investigative reporters continuously exposed blatant corruption in Texas’ leadership and bolstered the magazine’s already highly regarded coverage of injustice in the immigration system. Moser himself took his 2008 campaign series “Purple America” which ran in The Nation and turned it into “Purple Texas,” a column about the political climate in the Lone Star State. Moser also aimed to “set a new standard for alternative journalism in the digital age” at the Observer. And according to Mann, “One of Bob’s top accomplishments was pushing the Observer to do more on the Web, especially in social media and multimedia. He oversaw the redesign of the Web site. We now produce fresh content on the Web nearly every day, which was a huge step forward.” Mann held that Moser’s greatest contribution was the redesign of the print magazine. “Our subscriptions are up, and the magazine is selling well at newsstands,” he said, all of which is drawing more attention to the Observer’s hard-hitting investigations.
The Observer is currently looking for its next editor, but, as Moser moves to theAmerican Prospect, the investigative team he headed remains intact and will no doubt continue to garner the awards and attention they enjoyed during his tenure.