Texas Monthly moves to address the ‘appearance of impropriety’

February 2, 2018
The skyline of Austin, Texas, where Texas Monthly is headquartered. Photo by KBaucherel via Pixabay

Texas Monthly is hiring an ombudsman.

The magazine’s move comes in response to a CJR story, published on January 26, that reported on an apparent deal made by Texas Monthly Editor in Chief Tim Taliaferro with Bumble, the female-centric dating app. Bumble’s founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, appears on the newsstand cover of the magazine’s February issue.

Texas Monthly staffers reached out to CJR with concerns that the cover spot had been decided on a promise that Bumble would spend up to $30,000 boosting the story using paid social media promotion. Taliaferro, whose arrival at Texas Monthly in the fall of 2016 was marred by his suggestion (and subsequent denial after CJR reporting) that the storied magazine known for sharp political reporting would be focusing more on lifestyle coverage, denied that there had been any formal deal or agreement, and insisted that no journalistic ethics had been violated. But emails sent by Taliaferro to Bumble and obtained by CJR, detailed in our prior story, suggest there was prior discussion about the cover, including paid social media promotion.

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On Friday, Texas Monthly Chairman and CEO Paul Hobby said in a statement that the magazine had hired Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Rich Oppel, formerly of the Austin American-Statesman, as ombudsman to the magazine—and acknowledged that Taliaferro’s emails with Bumble representatives were problematic, but denied any deal with Bumble.

“Taliaferro’s communications with Bumble publicists may have incorrectly appeared to be a blurred line between the editorial and business sides of the magazine,” Hobby writes in the statement. “When it comes to Texas Monthly‘s journalism, even the appearance of impropriety can be damaging and is not acceptable. Taliaferro has acknowledged his misstep and regret to our staff, who care deeply about upholding the highest standards of journalism.”

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Oppel will review the magazine’s “processes and organizational structure” and make recommendations to the publication, according to the statement.

Read the statement in full here.

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Alexandria Neason was CJR’s staff writer and Senior Delacorte Fellow. Recently, she became an editor and producer at WNYC’s Radiolab.