Still Contrary After All These Years


Any magazine that manages to stick around as long as this one—55 years of raising hell and dodging creditors!—is bound to have had as many personalities as Sybil and more wardrobe changes than Madonna. It’s not just that you have to adapt to stay relevant; it’s that you have to evolve to keep from becoming a stale replica of old glories.

From the get-go, the Observer has been dedicated to the kind of journalism that makes democracy possible: investigative reporting that pries buried truths from the clenched jaws of power and privilege. In recent issues you’ve seen vivid evidence that that mission remains our prime motivator. Dave Mann’s saga of sloppy arson science and its innocent victims (“Burn Patterns,” April 3), Melissa del Bosque’s dissection of the University of Texas Medical Branch (“Storm Over UTMB,” March 20), Kevin Sieff’s exposé on the treatment of sexually assaulted immigrant women in U.S. detention (“Access Denied,” Feb. 20) and Forrest Wilder’s uncovering of an “intelligence-gathering” boondoggle called the North Central Texas Fusion Center (“Dr. Bob’s Terror Shop,” April 3) have unearthed outrages that would have stayed buried otherwise.

We’ve always had another mission as well: illuminating and elucidating the schizo culture of this big, weird, fascinating state. And in recent issues, as we hope you’ve noticed, we’ve been retooling and spit-polishing that side of the Observer, too.

Our cultural coverage now kicks off with a column, logically enough called “Back of the Book,” by managing editor Brad Tyer. Before he landed here early in 2008, Brad’s wicked intellect and graceful wit had adorned the pages of alternative weeklies in Missoula and his native Houston. Now, while he keeps us semi-organized (no small task) and lovingly edits our far-flung critics and cultural correspondents, he’s serving up such shimmery prose as this, from his March 6 take on novelist Joe R. Lansdale:

“East Texas scares the hell out of me.

“I’ve got a picture of myself at maybe 8 with my dad and his dad and his dad standing in front of a little plot of corn carved out of a bigger plot of pines. Papaw and I are wearing overalls that no amount of hindsight can make ironic and the whole scene screams dirt farmer to the point of panic attack.

“It looks like a good place to get gone from.”

Beyond Brad’s column, we’ve added new features meant to broaden and deepen our take on Lone Star culture. “Critics’ Notebook” points you to upcoming arts events curious Texans shouldn’t miss. “Preview” delivers a sampling of cutting-edge visual art on display around the state. At the tail-end of every issue, we’ve replaced our old “Afterword” essays with “Dateline” stories digging into far-flung Texas crannies, crevices and controversies. Thus far, we’ve featured Datelines from a wind farm in Roscoe, a hilltop crossroads in Kerrville, a South by Southwest-suffused Austin and, this week, a wild-hog wrassle in Sabinal.

Through all its incarnations, the Observer has ever been a contrarian enterprise: What other people won’t touch, we tackle. Accordingly, as not only investigative reporting but serious writing about books disappears from the mainstream press, we’re also stepping up our literary coverage. Along with the book reviews and essays in the magazine, we’re rolling out a brand-new books blog called “Texas Bound.” Watch it grow at www.texasobserver.org.

As long as you keep reading and supporting us, we promise you this: We’ll never stop trying to make a better Observer. And along the way, we hope, a better Texas too.