Two related points about the state of the increasingly crazy business we’re in. First, like delicate species in the ecosystem, magazines can’t survive if they don’t adapt. Second, rumors of print journalism’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but as with so many overstatements, there’s an embedded grain of truth, and it’s this: If we take the tastes and intelligence and patience of our readers for granted, we may as well close up shop.
You may have noticed the past few years that not every story in Texas Monthly is put together like every other; now you know why. A conscious effort has been made by our editors and writers to employ different delivery mechanisms for literary nonfiction, which is to say the investigative features, profiles of people and institutions, public interest pieces, and personal essays that have been our bread and butter for three decades. We live today at a moment when satellite radio, blogs, BlackBerrys, and the like have revolutionized the way we communicate—and we ignore the revolution at our peril. If we mean to keep our audience (some 300,000 paying customers and another 2 million lucky souls who happen upon someone else’s copy), we cannot keep doing the same old things the same old way. Even if our same old way is better than everyone else’s.
So we experiment. A few years back, senior editor John Spong acknowledged the tenth anniversary of the making of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused not with a conventional article but a telling of the tale by the people who were there; his oral history (“The Spirit of ’76,” October 2003) was such a fabulous read that it was reprinted recently in the booklet accompanying the film’s DVD release. In November 2004 senior executive editor Paul Burka and the magazine’s founding editor, Bill Broyles, argued about George W. Bush and John Kerry in a much-talked-about e-mail exchange we published (“Stop Beating Around the Bush”). Last spring the illustrator Steve Brodner portrayed life in a South Texas colonia in a ten-page sketchbook (“In America,” May 2005); no chin-stroking pontification could have done the subject such justice.
Those are but three examples of how we’ve reinvented the wheel, and a couple more are on display this month—in our pages and out. Senior editor Pamela Colloff’s amazing cover story, “96 Minutes”, recounts the events of August 1, 1966, the day Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower and started shooting, as described by witnesses, victims, loved ones of the deceased, and brave young men and women who risked their lives to save friends and strangers. Those recollections amount to more than 10,000 words, which ordinarily would be a daunting length; only twice in the past six years have we published anything that long. But as an oral history instead of a straight narrative, the thing races right along. Trust me: When you’re done reading it, you’ll be asking for more.
On the other end of the spectrum is Paul’s brand-new blog, Burkablog (you can find it on our Web site at burkablog.com). The existence of a permanent news cycle—the amalgamated effect of round-the-clock radio and cable TV news broadcasts and that pesky Internet—means political happenings and spin and gossip can’t wait thirty days to be published in a monthly magazine. So we’ve given Paul a second venue—in addition to his regular Behind the Lines column—to tell stories, mostly in tiny bits and bites, several times a day. Only a few months ago this would have been impossible to imagine, if only because Luddite Paul is not, to put it mildly, one with technology. There was also that column he wrote in March 2005 (“That Blog Won’t Hunt”) dissing bloggers as not fit to lick his boots. Ah, irony. The world has changed, and we’re changing with it. Him, improbably, included.
Football in its many splendors, Dell’s future, the un- separation of church and state, Betty Buckley, an Episcopal school at war with itself, a girl walks into an outlet mall, and the life and death of Phyllis Cartwright.