Tribfest Review: A weekend of fellowship, learning, journalism
This past weekend, four members of the Cougar editorial board got the incredible opportunity to attend Tribfest 2023.
Tribfest, named for its host, the Texas Tribune, is an annual conference that aims to “bring Texans closer to politics, policy, and the day’s news.” This year, the festival took place over three days, and included over 125 different events and speakers from across the country.
The Cougar staff attended several notable panels as well as several networking events designed for students to meet industry leaders from various fields. After settling into our hotel rooms, we kicked off Tribfest properly with a visit to a panel featuring chancellors from various college systems.
The Chancellors’ panel featured the heads of Texas A&M and Texas Tech, plus UH’s own Chancellor Renu Khator. They largely discussed the efforts being made at their respective universities to increase their research output in specific fields.
While the panel moderator largely stuck to easy questions, she also refused to shy away from controversy. She grilled the Chancellors on topics like DEI and the recent attempt to get rid of faculty tenure.
We also got the chance to hear Houston mayor Sylvester Turner speak about his time in office and offer his perspective on the upcoming mayoral race. Evan Smith, co-founder of the Texas Tribune, moderated this panel excellently. His fun, lighthearted comments broke up the dry and at times sad tone of the discussion.
Turner’s panel might have been the highlight of the entire festival. It offered a fascinating insight into the state of modern politics and how the “old guard” of politicians like Turner perceive recent decisions made by the Texas legislature.
“I would say that this is without a doubt a war on our cities by state leaders,” said Turner when asked what he thought of several recent legislative decisions. “They don’t like that our cities vote blue and they’ve tried to stop us every way they know how.”
While Turner was evasive when asked about who he favored in the upcoming mayoral race and made some odd comments about his opposition to term limits, the discussion still hit home.
In the midst of questionable ethics from the incoming mayoral candidates and a continued battle over control of Houston’s school districts, Turner’s departure feels like the end of an era. The panel ended on a somber note as he declared his love for the city.
We visited several other panels, including one on domestic policy and an insightful talk with veteran journalist Kaitie Couric. Couric’s time working at CNN, NBC and CBS paved the way for generations of female journalists in a largely male field, so hearing from her was an honor.
While Tribfest knocked it out of the park in many ways, there were some areas that could use improvement. For example, Couric’s panel was the only one we attended that had ASL interpretation, making most panels inaccessible to Deaf attendees.
Additionally, the event organizers could possibly benefit from finding a way to present better to younger audiences. Several speakers talked about wanting to get young people more involved in politics, but the event lacked when it came to presentations that engaged with issues relevant to Gen Z.
Overall, Tribfest 2023 was overwhelming, but not in a bad way. We spent large portions of our time there marveling at just how many notable journalists and politicians we were surrounded by. It really felt like being at the epicenter of Texas politics, and being able to attend was worth the trip.
Malachi Spence Key is a journalism senior who can be reached at