The nonprofit journalism industry lost a giant last week, and I lost a dear friend.
Trent Seibert, 47, most recently the founder of The Texas Monitor, was found dead in his Houston home on August 23. In a posting about Trent, The Texas Monitor said the death was apparently of natural causes.
Trent was known for his skills as an investigative journalist, and he plied his trade literally from coast to coast – he spent his early career working jobs in New Jersey, where he grew up, and later spent a short stint at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
It was during his stay at The Tuscaloosa Newsin Alabama, where he served as city editor in 2004, that I met Trent. He pushed me to do what I still consider the best work of my career investigating allegations of voter fraud in west Alabama. I went door to door to addresses that were allegedly the homes of residents who cast an inordinate number of absentee ballots in town elections in Greensboro and Marion, but I found that some of the homes were vacant. A judge later overturned the mayoral race in Greensboro. That might not have happened if not for Trent’s perseverance.
He wasn’t just my boss; he quickly became a friend as I enjoyed his quick wit and we shared affinity for such hobbies as poker. Trent was truly one of the great unknown comedians of our day.
Trent’s desire to stretch his legs took him to jobs at such places as The(Nashville) Tennessean, The Denver Postand KTRK-TV ABC-13 in Houston. It was in Texas that Trent spent most of his career and he helped start a movement. He founded and edited Texas Watchdog, an independent, privately funded website created to root out waste, fraud and abuse in federal, state and local government. That paved the way for Watchdog, a website created with the same mission but on a national level, with state bureaus across the U.S.
I began working for Watchdog as the Missouri bureau chief thanks to Trent’s recruitment. I later became an editor at Watchdog, which eventually led to me moving here to Taxpayers Protection Alliance as investigative reporter. I continue today, to use the skills that Trent imparted on me, in my day-to-day duties.
“Trent was one of the few really great investigative journalists,” communications consultant and former KTRK-TV reporter Wayne Dolcefino told The Texas Monitor. “So few people have this passion for journalism. It was like his oxygen, he consumed it. He was an ally in the fight for truth.”
In this distorted media landscape, Trent was an outlier, eager to call out either Republicans or Democrats for their malfeasance. As an independent myself, I appreciated his lack of bias. It didn’t matter if you were red or blue, he was only after the truth. The world is a lesser place without Trent in it, but the nonprofit journalism model he helped build will live on as his legacy.