A 'small-batch digital magazine' fills a local news hole in Texas

By Meg McGuire | Nov. 2, 2017

Tasneem Raja of The Tyler Loop speaks at the 2017 LION Summit in Chicago on Oct. 28. — Meg McGuire photo

Tasneem Raja is the driving force behind The Tyler Loop, a news magazine out of deeply red East Texas, and she explains it best: "We're a new ‘small batch’ digital magazine for Tylerites who want to better understand our beautiful, complicated, evolving city. We'll be posting a few meticulously crafted stories each month. Sign up for our newsletter below and never miss a story!"

In a very short time -- it launched in April 2017 -- she's managed to celebrate her new community as well as surprise it. Her partner in crime is also her husband, Chris Groskopf, who's her go-to person for deep dives into data. He -- and his son -- are the reasons that Raja is in Tyler.

Neither of them are full-time on The Loop. Both have flourishing journalism careers and want to keep The Loop a part-time effort.

Related: An Alt-Weekly Approach to Local News in a Red State Community

At the 2017 LION Summit in Chicago Oct. 28, the country's largest gathering of local independent online news publishers, Raja shared four stories that exemplify her approach:

The Tyler Loop Taco Tour

With an aim to visit all the taquerias in Tyler (the food on the "visible" menu of Tyler is BBQ,) The Loop announced its intention and invited people to pay $10 to come along and be judges. The response surprised them -- over 100. And they never did get to all the taco shops. But they did get lots of Tyler residents to visit a part of town that they had never been to before, and they had fun -- and accomplished another goal: spending money in a Hispanic community.

Tyler's Surprising Demographics

A data-driven story about the demographics of Tyler, which thought of its core structure as retired white oil and gas millionaires. Not so fast. The size of the oil-and-gas-related population was way smaller than anyone thought. And the younger demographic was growing faster than Houston or Dallas. While many people think their votes don't matter in an election, The Loop showed the people of Tyler that 100 votes one way or the other could swing an election.

Who is DACA?

"The Tyler Loop is sharing stories of young undocumented East Texans who are nervous about Texas’s new attack on DACA, the program that allows them to work legally in the U.S., and about SB-4, the new Texas law that requires local police to act more like immigration agents."

Raja explained that she asked four people to tell their stories in their own words. She didn't re-write them but transcribed them whole -- some 3,000 words. "I didn't want to be a filter," she said.

It was, to her surprise "incredibly popular." And it changed attitudes.

Robert E. Lee High School

"A radioactive issue," she said. Again she wasn't looking to insert herself into this charged argument. Rather they (she has a few other accomplices) went through the paper record of the history of segregation in East Texas, and put those incontestable records in a timeline for all to see. One of many interesting facts: The high school was named as a way for the town to thumb its nose at the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned state-sponsored segregation.

Raja plans to ask her community for support to keep the site going, "And if we don't get it we'll shut the site down until we do.

"I really do want the community to own it," she said.

Watch video of Tasneem Raja's talk at the 2017 LION Summit here:

Check out more entries in our 2017 conference blog »