Mr. Smith arrives

Texas Monthly's new man has plan: long stories, pop culture, and don't suck

During his tenure, then, he's had plenty of time to contemplate the magazine's place in the media landscape, to steep himself in its oft-spouted lore. He says, for example, that its mission was once laid out by publisher-legend-blowhard Mike Levy thusly:

When Texas Monthly began, there was this place called Texas and these people called Texans, who self-identified as Texans first, and as Austinites or Dallasites or Houstonians second. There was this "Texan-ness" that was the connective tissue. In those days, the fabled Texas myth was enough to keep them together.

Today, he says--rightly--that the nostalgic ol' dog won't hunt. "The state has changed," he says. "Today, all the cities have Pottery Barns and Starbucks. That 'Texan-ness,' the thing that differentiated us from people elsewhere, has been to some extent removed by the fact that we look more like everyplace else. The trick for us as a magazine founded on the idea that Texas is different, that Texans are different, is to figure out how to make the magazine reflect what is still unique about Texans."

Yankee boy: Evan Smith brings his vision to Texas Monthly.
John Anderson
Yankee boy: Evan Smith brings his vision to Texas Monthly.

It's a challenge that, despite Smith's palpable confidence, is enormously difficult. If Texas Monthly is to thrive under Smith--not financially, but journalistically; even though advertising pays the bills, great magazines do not make their mark on financial ledgers--he must please his literate, demanding core readers. It is those people who should have admired the magazine's decision to put an excerpt of Stephen Harrigan's important book, The Gates of the Alamo, on the cover of the March issue. It's the sort of cover--literary, mythic, Texas--that should appeal to those who want the magazine to regain greatness. Unfortunately...

"No, it didn't sell well," Smith says. "But would I do it again tomorrow? In a heartbeat. It's not always about how the magazine sells." A quote that is not as entertaining as my imitation of Evan Smith, but a quote that gives a Texas Monthly subscriber hope.

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