Our mission and our staff

The mission of The Tyler Loop is to help Tylerites develop shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our diverse and growing city.

Our values

  • We believe nonpartisan, fact-based reporting about Tyler’s past and present is essential for making informed decisions about its future
  • We strive to reflect Tyler’s rich diversity in all its forms, including demographics, politics, and faith
  • We aim to highlight what’s working in Tyler, and also to document challenges facing our city’s health and growth
  • We believe democracy works best when citizens engage in well-informed, civil conversations about the local impacts of national policies
  • We believe that independent, community-supported journalism is essential to the future of Tyler and cities like it across the nation

Our activities

  • We publish deeply reported, meticulously researched journalism on carefully selected issues facing Tyler and East Texas
  • We reflect Tyler’s diversity in all aspects of our work
  • We train paid interns and fellows, drawn from local schools
  • We collaborate with journalists across the state and country
  • We create opportunities for residents to engage in civil, fact-based conversations on city, state, and national policies and trends
  • We will become a leader in a national network of local nonprofit newsrooms experimenting with community-driven sustainability models

Staff and Board

Jane Neal, executive director

Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop, a nonprofit journalism startup that explores policy, history and demographics in Tyler, Texas. Jane also serves as storytelling director of Out of the Loop.

In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and Tyler Public Library. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former French teacher at the newly-named Tyler Legacy High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.


Neal Katz, board president

Neal Katz serves as rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Tyler, TX. In 2003, he was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish   of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Prior to that, he attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia where he received his undergraduate degree in Political Science, and spent two years of graduate school studying writing and counseling.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Rabbi Katz has also lived in Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Israel. In addition to his pulpit life, Rabbi Katz is also a singer/songwriter and music producer. Rabbi Katz has taught courses in Introduction to Judaism and Jewish Philosophy at TJC and UT Tyler. He serves on numerous local non-profit Boards and has won the T.B. Butler Award and The W.C. Windsor Awards from the Tyler Chamber of Conference for outstanding community service. He is married to Jennifer Katz and together they have three children.


Tasneem Raja, co-founder and board member

Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas.

She was a senior editor at NPR’s Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America.

She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two imperious terriers.


Michael McClendon, board member

Michael McClendon is the co-founder of Sages Vintage, a “custom crush” winery and consultancy in Nacogdoches. In addition to producing world class wines at Sage’s Vintage he has been named as a “Young Turk of Texas Wine ” by Dr. Russ Kane; featured in the Dallas Morning News; and on the cover of Wine and Spirits Magazine as part of their national collective of “Rising Black Voices” in the wine industry. 

Michael graduated from U.T. Tyler in 2009 with a biology B.A., plus minors in chemistry and Spanish. His career has taken him all over the world, from Chile to New Zealand, but East Texas still has a special place in his heart. 

He has worked with several local organizations such as the Heritage Land Bank Northern advisory committee, Discovery Science Place board of directors, and the former Tyler Bolts Rugby Club. Michael loves spending time with his wife and his nine-year-old son, an avid baseball player. Read more about Michael’s work and life in Tyler here.


Amy Lively, board member

Amy Lively was a regional public relations manager at Southwest Airlines in public relations and employee communications.

She has lived in Tyler 20 years and currently works at UT Tyler as the senior director of development.

Amy has 20 years of fundraising, strategic communications, and project management experience.


Paulina Pedroza, board member

Paulina Pedroza is a community advocate and teacher. She has taught English to language learners for 12 years, as well as immigrants preparing for their United States citizenship test.

She also teaches Spanish to Tyler police officers. Paulina is an active liaison between Tyler and East Texas organizations and city services and local Latino communities.

In addition to being a board member for The Tyler Loop, Paulina participated as a storyteller in Out of the Loop season 4.


Jessica Richardson, board member

An East Texas native, Jessica joined Next Step with more than a decade of experience as an educator in Houston area public schools and several more years of experience in development leadership roles for local and international nonprofits.

With Next Step, Jessica brings her passion for fundraising and community outreach together to expand access to mental healthcare and drug prevention to East Texas teens.


Leah Wansley, board member

Leah Wansley is the tech director for Out of the Loop and serves on The Tyler Loop’s board of directors. 

She is a former board president of both Leadership Tyler and Discovery Science Place, and is a current member of the  Leadership Tyler Catalyst 100 executive committee and the Dayspring Live Broadcast team.

Leah works as a business and marketing strategy consultant and lives in Whitehouse with her husband, James, and their two daughters, Megan and Paige.


Jamie Maldonado, contributing photographer

An East Texas native, Jamie Maldonado has worked as a visual journalist and copy editor for the Longview News-Journal, The Denver Post, and other publications.

He serves as the campus photographer and graphic designer at Kilgore College, and moonlights as a fine art photographer (complete with a master’s degree).

Taking to heart Dorothea Lange’s quote, “a camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera,” Jamie has turned his lens on his hometown and its people to see it all anew.

See more of Jamie’s work at his website. 


Grayson Lackey, contributing videographer

Grayson Lackey is an award winning writer/director/director of photography who has had his work appear in festivals in L.A, Chicago and all over Texas. His lifestyle of rubbing shoulders with both blue-collar workers, as well as the artistic community, has developed his empathic, intimate visual style.

In addition to directing video for Out of the Loop 3, Grayson produced video for all of The Tyler Loop’s COVID Stories series.


Rebecca Smith, newsletter editor

Rebecca Smith is the editor for The Loop’s weekly email newsletter. She is currently the coalition coordinator for The Piney Woods Substance Abuse Coalition, a program of local nonprofit Next Step Community Solutions.

Before getting involved in substance abuse prevention, Rebecca covered religion and nonprofits for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. She was recognized by the Texas Associated Press for her religion column, and earned her master’s in journalism from UNT and her bachelor’s in communications from Tarleton State University.

Rebecca lives in Tyler with her husband, Stewart, her son, Dean, and their neurotic Bichon, Remy.


Yasmeen Khalifa, reporting fellow

Yasmeen Khalifa, a Loop intern, is a Mass Communication and English student at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is the managing and lifestyle editor of The Patriot, a student-run newspaper investigating issues on- and off-campus, exploring the changing East Texas culture, and giving students a voice.

Yasmeen recently co-founded a new music series in The Patriot titled “Music in the Pines: Exploring Eclectic East Texas.” The series highlights local musicians, venues, concerts and other events as the music scene in East Texas evolves and thrives. Yasmeen also works as a lab technician in the Mass Communication department.

She is the founding president of the Keep Tyler Beautiful Youth Advisory Committee, a group of students working together to encourage beautification, litter reduction and recycling in Tyler.


Zoe McGhee, reporting fellow

Zoe McGhee is a freshman attending UT Tyler as a Mass Communication student. She is the copy editor for the Patriot Talon, the independent student-run newspaper striving to inform, entertain and educate students and staff of UT Tyler.

McGhee also serves as the secretary for the UT Tyler Design Club, an innovative new organization dedicated to spreading creativity across campus and providing a creative outlet for students.

She interned at her past high school’s communication department, acting as editor-in-chief of the district magazine and working closely with local businesses and administration. She also worked part time at her local newspaper over the summer as a reporting fellow.

McGhee hopes to expand her skills as a journalist by working with The Tyler Loop.


Emily Bush, reporting fellow

Emily Bush is from Houston, Texas. She is a senior at the University of Texas at Tyler, majoring in English and minoring in Language and Technology.

Although she loves writing for her English classes, she says, “journalism has been a big step forward to putting my voice out in the open. I am so excited to start writing for the Tyler Loop!”

Our policies

Other publications you might be interested in

Please drop a line at hello@thetylerloop.com, and don’t hesitate to just say hi. We look forward to visiting with you.