Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Less than one year since its launch, the online publication examining economic inequality in San Antonio, Folo Media, has folded.
"I’m writing to let you know that Folo Media is entering into a hiatus so that we can clarify our mission and reorganize our operations," reads an announcement posted on the nonprofit's website attributed to Editor-in-Chief Patton Dodd. "We’re not going away entirely, and some of our staff will remain with us, but we’ll cease functioning as a newsroom."
As a digital publication initiative of the Laity Renewal Foundation, Folo Media has been reporting on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio since last April. The Rivard Report could not verify what led to the sudden hiatus.
"In the coming weeks, we’ll be rethinking our strategy around raising awareness and inspiring action on inequity," according to the website. "Later this year, we may reemerge as a new civic engagement organization."
Recent articles include Darcy Sprague’s look at one elderly woman’s living conditions at the deteriorating, bug-infested Soapworks apartments and Ben Olivo’s deep dive into the challenges of building affordable housing in San Antonio. Folo Media currently has about 6,000 followers on the site’s Facebook page.
Bekah McNeel, a former education reporter at the Rivard Report, covered a school board meeting at which the San Antonio Independent School District planned a charter takeover of its lowest performing elementary school.
Olivo, formerly a reporter with the San Antonio Express-News, and McNeel have resigned.
Editorial Director Alice Rhee declined to comment.
"Folo Media has its own charter and is run by Editor-in-Chief Patton Dodd," said Perri Rosheger, executive director of constituent relations for The H.E. Butt Family Foundation, in a prepared statement Tuesday morning. "Patton made the decision to discontinue the newsroom because he determined that they needed to clarify their mission and vision."
Prior to leading Folo Media, Dodd had served as an editor for several national publications, and his writing had appeared in The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Slate, Financial Times, and Christianity Today.
Rhee’s bio on the website states she is a two-time Emmy award-winning television producer and multimedia journalist, and a former senior producer of digital video at The Washington Post. She has covered breaking news and special events for NBC News and MSNBC.
Folo Media is owned and funded by Laity Renewal Foundation, which is an affiliate of The H.E. Butt Family Foundation. The H.E. Butt Family Foundation has $295 million in total assets and is known for its faith retreat centers in the Texas Hill Country. Established in 1933 by Howard Butt and Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth, the son and daughter-in-law of H-E-B’s founders, today it is run by David and Deborah Rogers, the son-in-law and daughter of the late Howard Butt Jr.
The foundation is not affiliated with the charitable arm of the H-E-B grocery company, led by Chairman and CEO Charles Butt, Howard Butt Jr.'s brother.
Folo Media advisory board member Kym Fox, a journalism professor at Texas State University, said she joined the newly formed board last fall, but that the group had not met formally yet. "So I'm afraid I don't know anything more about their changes than what they have announced," Fox said. "I was sad to hear they are taking some time off. It's an important topic and important work."
McNeel said she plans to continue covering education in San Antonio as she has for the last five years.
“I’m a journalist and I believe that my best contribution to this city is to continue to tell stories truthfully and clearly on education," she said. "I believe in what Folo is doing and that talented people should go work for them. [But] there is no longer a place there for what I can offer.”
Rosheger said Folo Media employed six full-time staff members, including Olivo and McNeel. All were informed their status would not be affected by the hiatus, Rosheger said.
In December, the Texas Tribune announced a partnership with Folo Media and assigned Tribune investigative reporter Morgan Smith to cover poverty and inequity for both publications.
Now, as Editor-in-Chief Emily Ramshaw wrote on the Trib's blog, T-Squared, the publication will forge ahead on its own. “Morgan, whose reporting had only just begun, will continue to cover poverty and inequity across Texas, with a special focus on her home city of San Antonio. She'll be doing it for us, as she has for the last eight years, and for the dozens of other Texas news organizations that benefit from the Trib's free syndication model.”