Final update, 10 a.m., Feb. 21: Texas Monthly editor-in-chief Tim Taliaferro has issued a statement in which he writes: "In speaking about Texas Monthly’s online coverage, I made a comment about the relative emphasis we have placed on news and politics versus lifestyle and longform. In making this comment, I unfortunately gave the CJR the wrong impression." You can read the statement in full here.
Update, 8:30 p.m.: Texas Monthly owner Paul Hobby issued a statement repudiating the Columbia Journalism Review's story. Here is that statement in its entirety, sic erat scriptum:
I strongly refute what has recently been reported in the Columbia Journalism Review as the article mischaracterizes Texas Monthly's new direction.
Texans and Texas Monthly readers care a great deal about politics and that why the Texas Lt. Governor is on the cover of the February issue, Strong political coverage will remain the cornerstone to the magazine and any suggestion we would move away from our tradition of fine journalism is patently false.
Like the New Yorker, the Atlantic the Washington Post and the New York Times, we are transitioning to a more digital and and multi media experiences to continue to engage our readers and attract new ones.
For its part, the Columbia Journalism Review stands by its story, offering an update of their own on Twitter:
When Paul Hobby purchased Texas Monthly from Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications last October, it was almost certain that big changes were afoot.
In November, senior editor and political columnist Erica Grieder quit, while veteran TM editor Brian Sweaney—who took the editor-in-chief job in 2014 after former EIC Jake Silverstein departed to run The New York Times Magazine—left later that month as Hobby installed a new EIC for his new publication: 33-year-old Tim Taliaferro, who had previously served as vice president for communications and digital strategy for UT alumni association Texas Exes and editor of its alumni magazine, Alcalde.
"Tim Taliaferro may also be great but his resume—he’s been editor of the University of Texas alumni magazine—suggests a pulling back from Texas Monthly’s ambition to be as good as any national magazine," wrote Jack Limpert, formerly the editor at The Washingtoninan for more than four decades, on the heels of the announcement. "That kind of ambition is expensive and given the state of print journalism today—ad pages down, it’s harder to get and keep subscribers—it won’t be surprising if Texas Monthly dials down its expenses and ambitions."
Limpert wasn't far off the mark. In an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review published today, Taliaferro admits he's taking the magazine in a new direction—one that's less focused on longform features or political writing, and instead more focused on "lifestyle" verticals such as travel, fashion and food.
"Texans don’t care about politics," Taliaferro tells CJR. "Lifestyle sells Texas Monthly better."
In a response on Twitter, Taliaferro wrote: "Amazing to have a quote taken so far out of context by the @CJR. Texas Monthly has and always will cover politics." He has declined to elaborate on the original context for that quote, however.
Also included in his new vision for Texas Monthly according to CJR: more live events, which aligns with a previous TM statement in which Hobby said of Taliaferro and newly appointed chief creative officer Scott Brown, "I believe they are the perfect individuals to lead our brand forward, particularly in the areas of digital journalism and live events.”
"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," writes Lyz Lenz at CJR. "Several top journalists have left, and others are updating resumes."
Interestingly, Taliaferro's observation that Texans don't care about politics comes at the same time as a cover feature in its current February issue—still on newsstands—spotlighting Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. One might surmise this means sales of the issue were down.
The cover itself, the first under Taliaferro's stewardship, also took flack on social media for its unusual portrayal of Patrick. D Magazine editor-in-chief Tim Rogers weighed in on Facebook, writing: "I now believe, after careful consideration, that this is the worst TxMo cover in modern history. I don't know. Maybe back in 1976 they published a crappier cover. But I was 6 then and unqualified to pass judgment on magazine covers."
No word yet on what this Texans-don't-care-about-politics observation may also mean for TM's popular annual Bum Steer Awards, which has skewered state and local politicians since 1974. In the meantime, reports the CJR, $3 million set aside for severance packages during the sale of Texas Monthly could mean layoffs are on the horizon.