Newspaper Tree is a nonpartisan, public service 501(c)(3) media organization. On March 28, 2014, the Newspaper Tree board of directors met to develop the project’s core values and core purpose, which comprise the project’s core ideology. The exercise was based on “Building Your Company’s Vision,” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, published in the September-October 1996 edition of Harvard Business Review.
Core ideology is defined as “the enduring character of an organization—a consistent identity that transcends product or market life cycles, technological breakthroughs, management fads, and individual leaders.” The article explains core values as “the essential and enduring tenets of an organization.” And core purpose is “the organization’s reason for being.”
Our core values are
- to investigate untold stories,
- to be independent,
- to promote civic engagement, and
- to produce high-quality journalism.
Our core purpose is
to engage our community by reporting the untold stories related to the El Paso-Juárez region.
Newspaper Tree has its roots in the emergence of new media and community journalism in the United States. It was founded in El Paso, Texas in August 2003 as a digital-only journalism project emphasizing community voices and critical thinking in the El Paso-Juárez borderlands.
From 2003 to 2004, Newspaper Tree played an early, critical role in promoting transparency and accountability in government in our community. Newspaper Tree also developed an early reputation for thoughtful and provocative coverage of US-México border issues, including immigration, the arts, international trade, poverty, and border environmental issues.
From 2004 to 2009, Newspaper Tree operated as a for-profit business while continuing its tradition of investigative and community journalism. However, by late 2009, the for-profit business model proved to be unsustainable and the project shut down.
Notably, during this same period, the emergence of nonprofit public interest journalism began to provide an alternative for organizations seeking to provide investigative and community news. These nonprofit media organizations, to name a few, include the Voice of San Diego (2005), MinnPost (2007), ProPublica (2008), the Texas Tribune (2009) and SF Public Press (2009).
In December 2009, the El Paso Community Foundation acquired Newspaper Tree with the goal of establishing the project as an independent, nonpartisan, public interest nonprofit media organization benefiting the El Paso-Juárez borderlands. In April 2013, Newspaper Tree received its 501(c)(3) status from the IRS and, in July 2013, began operating as an independent nonprofit media organization.
The historic Newspaper Tree
Early accounts of a “Newspaper Tree” or “Notice Tree” in El Paso, Texas date back to the 1850s and 1860s, prior to the Civil War.
The Newspaper Tree is noted in C. L. Sonnichsen’s “Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande.” In his book, Sonnichsen quotes S.H. Newman’s 1876 “Reminiscences”: “two ash trees, one on either side, stood at the bridge crossing the ditch at El Paso Street and Little [Pioneer] Plaza and these served as bulletin boards….”
El Paso Times reporter W. W. Bridgers wrote in August 1940: “… in those days, it is true, and no fiction about it, that prior to the Civil War the tree sported a board that had been nailed to it, and which board was used for public notices such as Anson Mills posted once upon a time.”
Mills was a pioneer surveyor, builder, army officer, engineer, American boundary commissioner, diplomat, and inventor. He gave El Paso its name.
According to Bridgers, Mills posted his infamous notice on a Newspaper Tree at “2 o’clock p.m., August 6, 1860.” The notice said:
I have just been informed that J. S. Gillett, W. J. Morton and J. R. Sipes stated last night to R. Doane and F. Remy that I was an Abolitionist, for the purpose of injuring my character. As I never cast any other than a Democratic vote or expressed other than Democratic sentiments, I denounce the three above named persons as wilful and malicious lying scoundrels. Sipes and Morton owe me borrowed money for the last two years and I would like to have a settlement. I have never asked anyone to vote for me as surveyor and I now withdraw my name and will not serve if elected.
Alongside the Mills notice was posted the following, with the signatures of Gillett, Sipes and Morton:
A certain contemptible ‘pup’ signing himself A. Mills having published the undersigned as scoundrels we have only to say that he is so notoriously known throughout the entire county as a damned black Republican scoundrel, we deem him unworthy of further notice. However we hereby notify this fellow that his insignificance shall not protect him in the future.
Those lonely, brave trees served as El Paso’s original news source—nailed and papered with everything from lodging ads to duel challenges.
Today, the Newspaper Tree is commemorated with a replica and a plaque installed at the corner of W. Mills Avenue and S. El Paso Street.
For more information:
- “What’s in a name? An homage to the original Newspaper Tree,” by Mark Cioc-Ortega, Newspaper Tree, July 4, 2013.