By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Give Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith credit for being honest.
"In some quarters, we've become a coaster for the leisure class," he says. Issues of TM, Smith rightly fears, were being bought because of the magazine's reputation within an aging demographic, not because the publication was working its hardest to sell every story in every issue.
It's a problem that Smith, who took over for longtime editor Gregory Curtis last year, hopes is at least partially solved by the magazine's redesign. Gone are the covers with few teasers to stories inside, covers with images that may have been great art but failed to sell readers on what was inside. Beginning with the April issue, TM is more newsstand-friendly: a bright green cover, a recognizable face and name (Laura Bush), nine other stories (complete with the writer's name) tagged in hopes folks at checkout counters will see something, anything that appeals to them, because it's no guarantee the name of the mag itself is enough.
"Younger and new readers come to you first from the newsstand, so it's true that the design is partially newsstand-oriented," Smith says. "But it's more than that, too. It's to help sell subscribers as well. No longer can you assume that just because they receive it, they read it. And the point is not to get them to buy it; it is to get them to read it."
What he wants them reading, according to Smith and made obvious by the column-heavy design of the publication, is the name of the writers as well as their stories. Smith says he's trying to highlight, and create, his stable of stars.
"I want the writers' names and voices to be on view. It's what we are selling. It's branding the writers. It begins with Paul Burka, ends with Kinky Friedman and includes many others in between. That's before you ever get to the features."
For example, he points to the May issue, which prints next week, that features a cover story on LeAnn Rimes by multiple National Magazine Award nominee Skip Hollandsworth, without question the magazine's best writer. "Skip got the story no one else did, and I want people to know that when they see the issue. I want people to say, 'Wow, there was a lot to read in that issue,' and I'm not so sure that was true with every issue in the past."
Former Dallas Observer writer Dick Reavis is excited that his new book, If White Kids Die: Memories of a Civil Rights Movement Volunteer, has finally been published. But he's thrilled that the reason for writing the tome is no longer true.
"I wrote it because I couldn't find a job in journalism," Reavis says from his desk at the San Antonio Express-News, where he now works as a staff writer and Mexico correspondent. "I thought my career was over, so I thought I should finally finish the thing."
Reavis, who left this publication to write his then-controversial book The Ashes of Waco--in which he said the government wasn't telling the full truth about the Branch Davidian standoff long before it was fashionable to say so--says he was seen as an ideological crank by magazines and newspapers when he tried to go back to work full time. The only job he could land was editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife.
"I'd been trying to write the book all my life," he says. "I've got three earlier drafts of it dating back to 1970. But what I had found in earlier attempts was that I didn't have distance from myself to do it. I got too upset when I wrote about it, because we in the civil rights movement didn't win. That's my take. And at the time, I was incapable of seeing myself as a minor figure and an adolescent, which is what I was if you believe the movement failed. Only with the passage of time could I see myself as anything but grand and important. The older you get, the more you realize that you're stupid and fallible."
He hopes, then, that this more honest view of himself and the movement he fought in gives a less idealized history of what went on in the summer of '64. "There is a whole generation that doesn't understand anything about that movement except what TV tells them. And that is, that Dr. King descended from the heavens and made everything right. It's more complicated than that. So this story is told at ground level, a grunt's-eye view."
The terror in the eyes of Dallas and Texas journalists is real, a panic not seen since the days reporters used the "telephone" rather than the Internet. For many reasons--the tech-sector shakeout, rising newsprint costs, the general stupidity and greed of suits in the media biz--magazine and newspaper profits are far under projections for the first quarter. Even a profit-machine such as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, beloved within Knight Ridder (and hated in the newsroom) for its high profit margins and miserly spending, is feeling the pinch. Because corporate conglomerate parent companies within the media world expect 20-plus percent profit margins, as opposed to the accepted 10 to 15 percent of the early '90s, newsroom budgets are coming under more intense scrutiny. (Knight Ridder's flagship paper, the San Jose Mercury News, just lost its publisher, who resigned in protest over the company's threatened cuts.) Even yours truly has had his word count cut--because this paper is operating in the same tough advertising market as everyone else, not because most readers skip over this column on their way to dining reviews and helpful personal-escort suggestions.