New Texas Monthly editor Tim Taliaferro sent waves of anxiety through journalism circles nationwide when he told the Columbia Journalism Review Monday he intends to change the editorial direction of the magazine.
Here's the bombshell lead:
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.
Taliaferro insists he was taken out of context, and the CJR stands by its reporting. In the void between lies anxiety about the future of "The National Magazine of Texas" that reverberates far beyond Austin.
The article hinted at money troubles at the publication, noting that several top writers have already jumped ship, others are sending out their résumés and rumors of layoffs are swirling around the newsroom.
Sure, the news business is far less profitable than it used to be. Investigative journalism is expensive and time-consuming, and in-the-weeds political reporting often attracts a smaller audience than food, arts and entertainment stories. But for Texas Monthly, a perennial winner of journalism awards, to abandon the work that helped the magazine reach readers across the country is, to many, unthinkable.
Pressed by CJR to articulate his new approach to political coverage, Taliaferro cited Texas's controversial transgender bathroom bill as an example of a topic deserving less copy.
"Texans don't care about politics," he said.
He instead described an expansion of lifestyle, travel and food coverage by Texas Monthly, which he said "sells the magazine better."
As journalists and readers expressed their dismay at Taliaferro's comments, he insisted Monday afternoon that the trade publication had taken him out of context. Yes, that's true — a journalist accused another journalist of committing a journalistic sin — in a journalism publication.
Amazing to have a quote taken so far out of context by the @CJR. Texas Monthly has and always will cover politics.— Tim Taliaferro (@timtaliaferro) February 20, 2017
CJR called his bluff by Tweeting Taliaferro's exhange with reporter Lyz Lenz verbatim:
Reached at his office Tuesday, Taliaferro said he stands by his accusation that he was taken out of context.
"We remember the exchange differently," Taliaferro said of his conversation with CJR.
Lenz, the reporter, told the Houston Press in an email she quoted Taliaferro accurately and in the appropriate context. Lenz transcribed the interview on her computer as Taliaferro spoke and there is no recording of their conversation.
Despite his insistence that CJR erred, Taliaferro said in a letter on the Texas Monthly website Tuesday morning that he "unfortunately gave the CJR the wrong impression," and conceded that Texans do, in fact, care about politics.
Whatever he meant to convey to CJR, Taliaferro's comments give added weight to questions about his commitment to investigative journalism. Many had hoped the sale of the magazine last year to a company co-founded by the Hobby family, which once owned The Houston Post, would be a boon to the magazine's journalism.
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But the hiring of Taliaferro, 33, struck some as an unconventional choice. Though he leads the editorial side of the magazine, Taliaferro lacks a traditional background in investigative or long-form journalism. Taliaferro came to Texas Monthly after a five-year stint as the vice president for communications and digital strategy for Texas Exes, the alumni association for UT Austin. Before that, he worked for UT's alumni magazine and was an intern at the Huffington Post.
With more nuance than was apparent in his interview with CJR, Taliaferro acknowledged in his letter the changing nature of the news industry and said he cherishes the investigative journalism Texas Monthly has long done.
"I have no intention of putting an end to this kind of journalism," Taliaferro wrote. "In fact, I want more of it, in the magazine and on the web."
Whether he keeps his word, readers will have to wait and see.