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MICHAEL ALEXANDER to read before it was a big success. By the same token, when you’re just a kind of marginal product you can take a lot of chances. Part of that is purely finanCial, institutional, legal bullshit… “I think what the magazine misses more than anything is the underground of Texas. I think they’re right on the money in terms of taking on interests and issues. On the big stuff I think they’re doing a pretty gutsy job. What they miss is the more entertaining little stuff and the underground nature of Texas. Nowadays they don’t get out of Austin as much. Everybody is older and more civilized.” He added, “They still go out and dig. Sometimes I’m surprised at some of the stories they do, Shearn Moody, Oscar Wyatt they’ve still taken on some pretty tough characters.” From his perspective, the Monthly covers issues “as much as any magazine ever does. They make something of an effort to talk about issues like homelessness and crime. Curtis is really the editorial person in that column of his and if you read Curtis’ column regularly, I’m here to tell you he compares pretty favorably with the Houston newspapers in terms of taking on serious issues and writing on them with some complexity…. It’s not Mother Jones but it never set out to be.” Part of the “problem” may be that once the Monthly does a story, it is unlikely to take up the subject again. John Davidson, who freelanced 10 years and was a senior editor two years, remembers Bill Broyles saying, “This is probably the only time we’ll ever do this story. Let’s do the best we possibly can and let’s close out the genre.” He also said some writers feel stifled by the “formula”: “At a certain point they decided that they knew what worked and they decided they had the Texas Monthly formula and I think there were some people at Texas Monthly that thought there wouldn’t be a formula and that it would become ever more ambitious and it would become like the Atlantic or it would be like this maturing institution,” he said. “At a certain point it was decided that this was the formula and this is how we’re going to get the most number of readers and at that point it didn’t seem like it was an evolving institution.” John Taliaferro, former editor of Third Coast, an Austin city magazine, who worked a year as a TM senior editor after the Austin city magazine folded in 1987, said, “Texas Monthly showed that entrepreneurial magazines could succeed by being energetic, feisty, smart and aggressive … That was the standard they set at least before they became middle-aged.” It is harder to reintroduce fresh blood as the magazine gets older and its audience gets more affluent, he said. “Let’s hope that at their 40th anniversary their principal competition is not Modern Maturity magazine,” he said. “When you become part of the establishment and Texas Monthly’s goal was to become part of the establishment it’s harder to be aloof … Texas Monthly is about icons. Its challenge, month in and month out, is to create unity in a state that isn’t all that unified and so Ann Richards is perfect for Texas Monthly. She sends a message to Madison Avenue that Texas is unique. Texas Monthly is good for Ann Richards and Ann Richards . is good for Texas Monthly.” The difficulty of breaking into Texas Monthly as a freelancer adds to the problem of the lack of minority voices; he said. “The word on the street is that Texas Monthly is tough to work for and humiliating for a freelancer,” he said. As for the staff, he said, “It’s a group of like-minded people talking about what interests them. There’s no Hispanic and only one black researcher. Then again, who reads the magazine?” William Broyles, who is working on a screenplay, a novel, short stories and TV projects between California and Texas, said the Monthly remains his favorite magazine. “I’ d like to be able to tell you the magazine’s gone downhill since I left. That would really make me feel good, but it has not happened…. I think it has room to grow. It’s harder to take on institutions and it’s harder to be fresh but I think they’re doing it.” He said the magazine always has taken on the state’s institutions. “A lot of our stories were institutional stories…. We were asking questions about the institutions that shaped the politics of Texas and the lives of Texans and were almost never covered, like writing about the major law firms in Houston and the big banks in Dallas or about what it was like to work at Exxon. Those sorts of stories were never covered in newspapers. “I think we were also likely to deal with things in a narrative way, like writing about Oscar Wyatt in the early days and how he used Coastal States to accumulate a natural gas empire and how he essentially stuck it to South Texas when the prices went up. We were looking at Texas politicians with tougher, character-based profiles. “I think it’s consistently really good and I think it has changed as the state has changed, with the oil shock and the real estate collapse, but in some ways it hasn’t changed. Greg and Paul have been around from the beginning and they still are trying to apply those really high standards to what’s going on. That’s a pretty simple thing to say but it’s not so easy to do. “Over 20 years it’s like anybody who has reached a certain level: In the early days those stories had just never been done and I think there was a real excitement in doing them the first time. I think we’ve come to expect a really high level of performance, but when you achieve it you’re merely meeting expectations. “In the early days we hit a lot of home runs, but we struck out too,” he said. Broyles said the criticism of Curtis for importing talent was offbase. James Fallows was an early hire from the Washington Monthly, he noted. “We’ve always had a mixture of people from Texas and outside Texas. I always tried to have one person who could look at the state fresh, but the real criterion for someone coming from outside was they weren’t supposed to be hired guns but you want them to enjoy and love the state. Don’t forget Davy Crockett was only in the state a couple months when he died [in the Alamo] and we claim him, so this is part of the . Texas dynamic.” On the magazine’s coverage of social issues, Broyles said, “I think there’s room for improvement, but Gary Cartwright wrote on a welfare family, Richard West on the Fifth Ward of Houston, we did lots of stories on South Texas. I think there’s been a number of stories, the Vietnamese on the coast. I don’t think any of us in journalism can be proud of the way we cover people in the colo THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11