I thought it would be fun to run a magazine

Ray Washburne's Texas Business is a case study in how not to run a business

By October, it must have grown painfully clear to Washburne that publishing Texas Business was hardly like putting out a neighborhood newspaper. He began a fevered quest to unload the magazine.

While he mined his own financial sources, he also authorized Carroll and Staton to search out investors on their own. They quickly assembled a prospectus--pockmarked with spelling errors and typos--"and we went on a whirlwind tour to get investors," says former art director Chalk.

In their pitch, the seven top managers offered to forgo more than $150,000 in annual salaries in exchange for stock in a new company. The investors never came.

Hope arrived in early November in the form of Dallas insurance executive Randall Goss, who reportedly provided $180,000 to cover payroll, printing, and other costs. Two weeks later, Washburne assembled the staff for a 7:30 a.m. meeting. Goss was prepared to buy the magazine, he said, and wanted to meet and mix with the staff.

Neither Washburne nor Goss was prepared for what came next.
Washburne introduced Goss by explaining that despite his best efforts to front the magazine, he could do no more. As the group stood, hushed, Staton suddenly challenged Washburne: "That's not true, Ray."

Seconds later, Goss stepped forward to speak. "I asked if anyone in the room might have any trouble continuing to work with Ray," Goss says, recalling the day. "Tracy raised her hand." Chalk followed.

One former staff member recalls that Washburne slipped around the corner to avoid a clash with Staton: "Ray was never good at handling confrontation."

It was a watershed moment for Goss. "Before that meeting, I thought it was one big happy family," he says. "Ray had left me with the impression that everyone had their sleeves rolled up, working shoulder to shoulder to make this thing work. It was suddenly obvious that the whole scenario at Texas Business--the financial situation, staff morale, projections for ad sales--was completely different than what I thought it would be."

That day burns in Washburne's memory. Recalling the insurrection, he smirks: "Tracy may have thought she was doing something noble, but she shot the savior."

There was no love lost on Staton's part, either. Less than a week later, after Goss had backed out of the deal, Carroll laid off 15 of the 22 staff members as a last-ditch cost-cutting effort. Washburne continued to scout for a major investor or buyer. Staton--whose contract supposedly barred her from discussing magazine business--told the Morning News, "The key thing in all of this is that the problem we had was not with the magazine or with what we were doing here. The chief problem is our ownership and our ownership's inability to meet the commitment he initially made when he hired me."

Finally, in early December, Daniel Collins, the 33-year-old president and publisher of Fort Worth-based Harvest Media, stepped forward to buy the magazine. Harvest was clearly a dark horse among potential buyers; the small, privately held firm made its reputation by publishing quick-hit pictorials of Mickey Mantle and murdered Tejano singer Selena.

Collins became president of Texas Business and Goss became a major investor. Washburne, says Harvest spokesman John Hawkins, was to "retain some equity in the magazine with no day-to-day responsibilities." Collins has vowed to make good on all outstanding invoices.

The January-February 1996 issue of Texas Business was printed January 26, after missing its first distribution date of January 12. It did not arrive on newsstands until early February. Rick Scott, the CEO of Texas-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. and a frequent business-magazine subject, is on the cover, beneath the headline "High Stakes Health Care."

Tracy Staton and Philip Chalk now share donated office space on the 26th floor of downtown's Renaissance Tower. They have established the Texas Writers' Bureau, a loosely knit clearinghouse, to match free-lance writers with editorial projects. Their office has a commanding view of the West End.

Former writer Dave Scott is considering joining the bureau, as is former managing editor Kathy Thacker.

Texas Business' former copy editor, Bill Robinson, is suing Washburne in small-claims court for $1,500 he says he never received. Washburne has filed a denial of the claim. New owner Harvest Media has not made good on the invoice, Robinson says.

Bitter staff members place the blame for the death of their dream magazine squarely on Washburne's shoulders, but their own naivete is also puzzling. Seasoned journalists all, they say they took Washburne at his word, believed his bravado, and got swept away. They admit now they could have done more checking on Washburne's finances, or pondered his dearth of publishing experience a little harder. But they had this dream.

"We believed in the magazine. We pulled all-nighters all the time," says Chalk, sounding like a wide-eyed college student.

"Editorially, we were well on our way to success," Chalk adds.
That is an insider's wistful account. The content of Texas Business during its resurrection under Washburne was predictable and often timid. Its graphic design was tidy, but uninspired. Personality profiles on subjects such as Jerry Jones doing it his way, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock finessing the partisan State Senate, and "power couples" who make their marriages work broke no ground. There were a few bright spots--Scott's in-depth look at the greed-driven players who have hobbled horse-racing in Texas and "The Outsider," a monthly column with musings on Texas by national personalities, including Oliver North and Camille Paglia--but Texas Business, at best, was clearly a work in progress.

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