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How She Got Here: The Texas Observer’s Andrea Valdez

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As the editor-in-chief of The Texas Observer, Andrea Valdez is the first Latina editor of a statewide publication in Texas. 

By Jordan Burnham, Photo by Maria Lokke/Wired

After she received her Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Andrea Valdez launched her career in journalism as a fact-checker for Texas Monthly  and eventually became the publication’s digital editor. While working at the renowned magazine, her column on Texas expanded into a book titled How to be a Texan: The Manual. Following her tenure at Texas Monthly, Valdez moved to Wired, where she served as the editor of wired.com. Her love for Texas led her back to the Lone Star State this summer to become the editor-in-chief of The Texas Observer and the first Latina editor of a statewide publication. She shares how she got here and how she plans to lead the esteemed news organization.

On being the first Latina editor of a statewide publication in Texas

“I think it’s important and I’m really proud that I get to be in this role and show other people who look like me that this is a job that you can have. So that, I’m really proud of. I’m really hoping that I’m able to [bring] on a more diverse staff. … A very big priority to me is diversity for The Observer, diversity in my newsroom, diversity of sources—the people that we’re calling also reflect what the state looks like—that the people that we’re featuring in the magazine and online reflect the diversity of the state and that the stories that we’re telling reflect the diversity of the state. And so, I think that’s something that The Observer has been thinking about before me and I hope, and I’m happy to say, that it’s something that I’m thinking about now and I intend for it to be a priority going forward.”

On who she looks up to

“One is Pamela Colloff, who I worked with for many years at Texas Monthly. She is also a Texas-based journalist and is writing some of the most important, very best stories I think that are being published right now. She’s just been so kind and so gracious to me over the years and so, she’s someone that I really look up to and admire. … Another Texas Monthly alum that I worked with for a long time named Kate Rodemann…was an editor at Texas Monthly for a long time and she provided really important mentorship to me. She’s someone who sent me emails that showed exactly what she was doing when she edited a piece and broke it down on a structural level, and I really value that. Those are emails that I still have and notes that I still reference. And so, yeah, those are two just really, like I said, gracious kind women who have extended their goodwill toward me.”

On her favorite projects

“Last year, I wrote about if there’s such a thing as Latinx Twitter. I think we heard people talk about black Twitter and I wondered if the same community existed for the Latinx community on Twitter, and that was really an interesting piece to get to report and write about because it felt a little personal to me, and it allowed me to dive a little into the nuance of being Latinx, and that means that not everybody comes from the same country or has the same background. Or some people are first generation. Some people are third generation. I’m Mexican American. Some people might be Cuban American. … Really thinking more nuanced about what it means to be Latinx, so that was a story that I was really just excited and happy to get to tell. And then, just more broadly, I’ve written a lot about Texas and what it means to be a Texan. I wrote a book called How to Be a Texan and it was more of a how-to guide on certain Texas activities, but what I really appreciated about getting to do that is talking to people about what it is they do and how it informs their identity of being a Texan. And just broadly, I really like telling those stories. I just think that Texas identity and the Texas culture is so just neat and idiosyncratic.” 

On writing a book

“The nice part about this particular project was I had written I’d say probably 60 or so percent of the material already for the magazine. So, the hardest part was just writing the rest of it while working full time. I developed this sort of schedule for myself. I would write for the book between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. and then I would get up. … I was editing the daily newsletter in the morning for Texas Monthly at the time so I’d wake up at like 7/7:30 a.m. and edit that and then go to work and work a full day and then go for a run after work and then eat dinner and then go back to writing. And I did that for a few months and it was challenging, but it really proved to me that you can make time for the things you want to make time for if you feel they’re important to you.” 

On her time at Wired

“I loved working at Wired. It was completely different for me. I had never been in the tech-reporting space before. I learned so much. I think that it is one of the most important stories of our time, how tech and the digital culture are affecting us and affecting humanity. So, I really loved being front and center for that and watching it unfold. There [are] so many great stories there. All of the big companies, the big most powerful companies in the world right now, are tech companies, so I loved that part of it. And then I lived in California for two years. Wired is headquartered in San Francisco and I had only lived outside of Texas one other time when I went to Medill when I lived in Evanston, the Chicago suburb where Medill is located. It was nice to get an experience where I lived outside of the state for a couple of years. But I always really missed it, which is part of why I came back.” 

On managing challenges

“I’ve had challenges and it’s a matter of…breaking down my challenges to smaller incremental, doable tasks and just doing those things one at a time. I mean, the book was a challenge because I was doing that while I was working full time, but if I really looked at it as one chapter at a time, it made it a lot easier to do. … The industry is going through a lot of upheaval right now, but I think that what helps is I believe in the mission. I believe in the purpose. And those are the things that I fall back on when it seems difficult.” 

On her vision for The Observer 

“The big thing that I think this year will be just observing, tweaking where possible, doing what I can to improve processes or story ideas for the first year. The staff is really excellent. I’m really lucky that I get to work with them and so, getting to know them and helping them figure out the best ways to tell stories and getting out of the way so they can do it is my No. 1 priority this year. Next year, I really hope that we can focus on continued staff hires. I’d like to bring on more staff writers and expand in areas like education and business and technology, infrastructure…transportation. Those are all beats that I’m interested in. But continuing to expand the staff-writer model, I think that’s really important to a healthy newsroom. And concurrently with that, I’m hoping that with more writers, we have more stories and that with more stories, we get more readers and so that we create a virtuous cycle where people…know who we are, they know what we’re doing, they appreciate our work and that they want to become members and donate to The Observer. We’re a nonprofit so that’s obviously a big part of our business…bringing new readers in and having those readers understand the value of what we do and then donating to us.”

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