The venerated Texas Observer is desperately trying to stay alive.
After the small, feisty magazine's board decided Sunday to close the publication this week, 17 staffers targeted for layoffs began a fund-raising campaign led by editor Gabriel Arana. Nearly $200,000 had been raised as of Tuesday afternoon, impressive but not enough to keep the Observer alive.
Began by Ronnie Dugger in 1954, the Observer gained a reputation for independent investigative reporting and brilliant writing. Legendary journalists Willie Morris and Molly Ivins edited the Observer before moving on to national fame. Novelist Larry McMurtry was one of the Texas writers who examined the Lone Star State's peculiar culture for the Observer.
Longtime editor Dugger is the father of noted New York Times journalist Celia Dugger, named for Morris' first wife. She worked as a young reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Observer is a vestige of Texas' once vibrant progressive Democratic politics, exemplified by late Gov. Ann Richards and former Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower. Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and other Democratic leaders have failed to restore the state's progressive tradition.
With a circulation of 4,000, the Observer has fallen upon rough times in the digital age. Kept afloat by haphazard donations and paid subscriptions to the print edition, the Observer gives free email newsletters and hasn't set up a pay wall for its digital edition. Nor does it accept advertising.
The magazine that annoyed Lyndon Johnson, John Connally. George Bush and a motley group of rapacious Texas legislators also faced competition from the well-funded online news operation Texas Tribune, which broke the news of the Observer's closing. Texas Monthly magazine. edited by several Observer alums, covers much of the same territory.
Dugger's Observer was a model for alternative newspapers around the nation, such as the Village Voice and the Los Angeles Free Press.
When I was a young would-be Gonzo journalist, I saw the Observer as a bright shining light. I associated the publication with the progressive spirit then flowering in Texas, personified by hippie country artists Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wyle Hubbard, Gary P. Nunn and Townes Van Zandt.
If the Observer dies, part of Texas' soul will go with it.