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MEDIA MATTERS DAVID SHAW

More than Longhorns laud Texas Monthly

March 30, 2003|DAVID SHAW

Evan Smith, the current editor, is just the third the magazine has had in 30 years. (Los Angeles magazine, by contrast, has had five editors in the past dozen years.)

To Smith, the biggest challenge for the magazine today is the "changing face of Texas. When the magazine started, our audience was basically long-term Texan. Now many have moved here in the last five years for jobs or quality of life, and to them, the Texas Rangers means baseball, not law enforcement, and economic boom means technology, not oil. We have to figure out how to put out a magazine for them and for our old core readers."

Levy is still the publisher of Texas Monthly, but he's no longer the owner. Four years ago, at age 51 -- recently divorced, concerned with estate planning -- he sold Texas Monthly to Emmis Communications of Indianapolis for about $37.5 million.

Another company offered even more, but Levy says he felt "the franchise and my people would be better served by being part of the Emmis family."

Translation: He thought Emmis would safeguard the editorial culture of the magazine better than the other bidder.

He probably made the right decision.

In 2000, Texas Monthly doubled its annual profits to about $4.5 million -- and even though the bad economy sent profits plummeting back to about $2.9 million last year, the magazine continues to publish good, solid, serious, long-form journalism in every issue. (At Texas Monthly, as at other magazines, long stories aren't as consistently long as they once were -- a concession to "greater competition for people's time," as Levy puts it. But Michael Hall's examination of capital punishment in Texas, "Death Isn't Fair," ran 8,000 words last December and was just named a National Magazine Awards finalist in the public interest category.)

Texas Monthly circulation has remained constant at about 300,000 -- 10% are non-Texans -- since 1990, and Levy attributes the magazine's continued success to its fidelity to its "core mission: to inform and entertain Texans and to be important to their lives."

As Tom Spencer, host of the television program "Austin at Issue," put it during a 30th anniversary show honoring the magazine last month, "Texas Monthly has defined what it means to be a Texan."

It's done much more than that. It's defined what it means to be a great magazine.

*

David Shaw can be reached at david.shaw@latimes.com.

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