Business of News

New editor in chief takes Texas Monthly in a ‘lifestyle’ direction

February 20, 2017
The skyline of Austin, Texas, where Texas Monthly is headquartered. Photo by KBaucherel via Pixabay

* Editor’s note: Texas Monthly Editor in Chief Tim Taliaferro on Wednesday published an editor’s note saying he had given CJR “the wrong impression” in an interview for this story. Read the letter.

The new editor in chief of Texas Monthly plans to pull back from the kind of longform and political coverage that gave the title a national profile to focus instead on lifestyle coverage, website enhancements, and a live-events business.

Tim Taliaferro, who took over after the sale of the magazine to Genesis Park LP, tells CJR it would be foolish to walk away from the history of the magazine, but he hopes to focus on growing the lifestyle vertical because “lifestyle sells Texas Monthly better.” He added, “Literary circles have a bias against lifestyle, but lifestyle is an important part of the magazine, including travel and food.”

The change has alums and current staffers worried about the potential for layoffs and the future of the magazine as a home for ambitious journalism and celebrated writing. Several top journalists have left, and others are updating resumes.

Texas Monthly bears the tagline “The National Magazine of Texas”–and it has lived up to the billing. Since its founding in 1973, the magazine has won 13 national magazine awards for public interest, politics, feature writing, and general excellence.

It was a mantle embraced by former owner Emmis Communications Corp, which sold the magazine in October 2016 to Genesis Park, a private equity firm co-founded by Paul Hobby, grandson of former Texas governor William P. Hobby, who owned the now-defunct Houston Post. The buyers quickly found a new editor in Taliaferro, 33, the former vice president for communications and digital strategy for Texas Exes (the University of Texas alumni association) and the editor in chief of Alcalde, UT’s alumni magazine.

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Taliaferro spoke with CJR about his plans for Texas Monthly, which are a departure from the magazine’s long history of in-depth political coverage and longform journalism. Of his plans to scale back local political coverage, he says, “Texans don’t care about politics.” As an example of the coverage he plans to cut back on, Taliaferro cited stories on transgender bathrooms.

Taliaferro replaced former editor in chief Brian Sweany, who told D Magazine that he was going to hole up in his office, grow a beard, and work on a book. Since the sale, senior editor Erica Grieder quit with no new immediate employment plans, and web editor Andrea Valdez left to work as a site editor for Wired. Stacy Hollister, director of editorial operations, also left after the sale.

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Journalists on staff and alums reached by CJR described a gloomy feeling about the changes but declined to speak on the record. The magazine is known as an incubator for talent with writers such as Mimi Swartz, Skip Hollandsworth, Jan Reid, Gary Cartwright, and Pamela Colloff. The editor of The New York Times Magazine, Jake Silverstein, is a Texas Monthly alum.

The next shoe to drop for Texas Monthly employees may be layoffs: The $25-million sale agreement required former owner Emmis Communications Corp to set aside $3 million in severance related expenses. While no layoffs have been announced, when asked about the $3 million in severance, Taliaferro replied, “Where did you get those numbers?” Then he said the matter was a personnel issue and declined to comment further.

During Taliaferro’s tenure at Texas Exes, he expanded digital and multimedia offerings. He plans to do the same at Texas Monthly, growing what he calls, “comprehensive and immersive digital experiences.”

A statement on the Genesis Park website notes that “Genesis Park is the third owner of the Texas Monthly brand and will use its deep Texas relationships and media history to drive the brand into digital content, social media, expanded events, merchandising and a broader custom publishing business for the next chapter in Texas Monthly’s storied career.”

Genesis Park did not respond to requests for comment via phone and email concerning the magazine’s new direction.

When asked for comment on Taliaferro’s vision, former Texas Monthly editor in chief Evan Smith, who is now CEO of the Texas Tribune, replied simply, “Nah.”

Lyz Lenz is a writer based in Iowa. Her writing has appeared in Pacific Standard, Marie Claire, Jezebel, and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @lyzl.