Three years ago, when I took over Texas Monthly from the previous editor in chief, I elected not to mark the occasion with the sort of sweeping changes that often accompany a shift at the top of the masthead. Some new hires were made, some small adjustments here and there, but by and large the design of the magazine remained the same, as did the writers, the regular features, and the style of the covers. New editors almost always rush to put their stamp on a publication as quickly as possible, but this often has to do with the editor’s own desire to shed the baggage of the past and see his ideas on the page. In our case, the magazine was running smoothly (that spring we’d won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence), and the time, I decided, was not yet ripe for a top-to-bottom renovation.
Instead, we focused on less obvious improvements. We deepened our commitment to the kind of long-form literary journalism that put Texas Monthly on the map in the first place. We recognized that, with the news cycle speeding up and becoming more relentless, the value of our brand of storytelling was only increasing. When information is flying by every day, sometimes in no more than 140 characters at a time, an eight-thousand-word article that sits prominently on newsstands, coffee tables, or tablets for one full month plays a unique and vital role. So we worked harder than ever, sentence by sentence, to make these stories—which constitute the heart of any issue of Texas Monthly—not just good but great, well worth a significant investment of our readers’ time. We also rededicated ourselves to civic journalism. This has always been a part of Texas Monthly, but we moved it to center stage, publishing special issues on immigration and drought and hosting numerous roundtable discussions on the state’s most serious problems. Meanwhile, we poured energy and resources into other platforms of our business, launching the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival (coming up on its third sellout year this month), building one of the largest social media audiences in Texas, rolling out two new apps, and creating a daily news destination on the Web, the TM Daily Post.
So we’ve been busy. Now the time has come to knit up all this disparate activity in the next incarnation of Texas Monthly. The issue you hold in your hands (or are reading on one of your devices) is the culmination of a long process of re-imagination. As they say in the industry, the magazine has been redesigned—the pages approached as so many blank slates on which to reinvent the idea of Texas Monthly. From front to back you’ll find new concepts, new looks, and new writers. And naturally, since we’re long past the era when a redesign stopped at the edge of the page, those changes will soon be reflected digitally. With the February 2013 issue, the magazine will celebrate its fortieth anniversary, and we’ll mark the occasion by debuting a completely overhauled website.
The changes have been made thoughtfully and carefully and in the fullness of time. But they are not timid. They are wholesale and they are dramatic. And they require some point-by-point explanation.
The Logo. One of the goals of this redesign was to move forward while looking backward, and the best example of this is the revamped logo. Longtime readers may notice that the large “ball terminals” on the a in “Texas” and the y in “Monthly” look familiar. That’s because they’re vestiges of our very first logo, which was considerably more squat and bulky than the one that replaced it in 1990. The second logo, updated slightly in 2003, remained in use for 22 years. The brand-new logo combines elements of the previous two: the boldness and character of the first with the refinement of the second.
The Type. Reading a print magazine should not be difficult. So though we’ve stayed with Sentinel, our trademark typeface for body copy, we’ve made several changes that should please those readers who sometimes complain about legibility. (I told you I was listening!) Not only has the font size been increased to 9.25, the largest we’ve run in decades, but the vertical spacing between the lines (known as the leading) and the horizontal spacing between the columns have also been increased. This gives the pages more breathing room and makes the experience of looking at them easier and more pleasurable.
Touts. Between the Behind the Lines column that you’re currently reading and the Reporter section, you’ll now find Touts, which takes its name from the shopping and events page that ran from the very first issue in 1973 until 1987. We’ve recast Touts as a lifestyle section, the first full-fledged such section in the magazine’s history. For now, the section comprises five pages, each of them meant to deepen a reader’s understanding and enjoyment of Texas. The opener features a giant three-dimensional T composed of images related to pages within the section. (That T, which you’ll see throughout Touts, as well as the R that brands the Reporter section and the D at the start of the Dining Guide, is from a very unusual typeface called Maelstrom, which has a modern yet Western feel to it that suits us well; it is, to say the least, something you are unlikely to see in any other magazine.) Below the T is a small events calendar—the five things you should do in Texas this month—by Michael Hoinski, who also writes our weekly online column the Drop Everything List. Then comes Essentials, a product page by writer-at-large Kristie Ramirez. The idea behind this page is simple but elegant: every month Kristie will take one of the essential elements of classic Texas style and find several variations on that theme created by homegrown designers.
After Essentials comes the Wanderer, as perfect a pairing of writer and column as I’ve ever seen. The writer is associate editor Jordan Breal, whose enviable job it now is to wander around Texas taking three-day vacations and advising us on the best things to do from Marfa to Nacogdoches (around the office this column is known affectionately as “Breals on Wheels”). In addition, Jordan will be chronicling her voyages on a blog at texasmonthly.com, also called the Wanderer.
Two food pages round out the section: Pat’s Pick and Vittles. The former is a continuation of executive editor Patricia Sharpe’s excellent and long-running monthly review of the best new restaurant in Texas. We haven’t changed this too much, since it falls under the category of “Ain’t Broke” (which also includes the Texanist’s back-page column). We simply brought Pat’s Pick from the back of the book to the front, added more photos, and made it a little longer. Following it is Vittles, a new page featuring the history and significance of—and a surefire recipe for—traditional Texas dishes. The author of this page is associate editor Courtney Bond, the mere sight of whose name will soon be enough to activate your salivary glands. (Courtney and Pat are also responsible for shaking up the Dining Guide, which will now feature all the top restaurants for each city—as opposed to a selection—ensuring that every issue of the magazine contains a definitive directory of the state’s best eateries.)
Reporter. Over the years, the Reporter section has been redesigned as much as any part of Texas Monthly. With all due respect to the many iterations that came before, this may be the most dynamic it’s ever been. In the first column, Lead, you’ll get alternating viewpoints, from the left and the right, on issues of political, cultural, and historical importance to Texas. Six columns per year will be written by longtime contributor Michael Ennis, one of the state’s smartest voices on art, literature, politics, and pretty much everything else. The other six will be the work of new writer-at-large Joshua Treviño, whose incisive commentary I suspect we’ll be reading for many years to come. In the months that they aren’t writing their print columns, Michael and Josh will be responding online to what the other has written in print, making for an ongoing, thoughtful debate.
We’ve also brought back a monthly news-maker interview, Chat, which I’ll be conducting. And we’ve invented a new page, Lookout, designed to give a clever and quick sense of what people will be—and should be—talking about in the month ahead. After that comes Critter, one of my favorite new things. It’s a full-page comic illustration about a Texas animal by the hugely talented and funny Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist who comes to Austin from Denton by way of New York City. The rest of Reporter will be taken up with a rotating selection of departments—Education, Religion, Business, Sports, Books, Screens, Music, and more—finally finishing with TX Journal, a literary snapshot of a corner of the state, and its inhabitants, that usually goes unnoticed.
Features. Between Reporter and the features, there used to be two or three columns per issue. These have been eliminated to make room for the pages mentioned above. The columns, by writers such as Oscar Cásares and Prudence Mackintosh, showcased some of the best writing in the magazine, but they were too often lost in the crack between one section and another. So from now on, you’ll find Oscar, Prudence, and many other essayists in among the features, a nice respite from the longer fare. The features themselves remain largely unchanged.
It’s no coincidence, of course, that the debut of our new pages coincides with this month’s cover story. This issue is about the future—the next generation of Texans and the next generation of Texas Monthly. Like the parents in the issue who’ve written so movingly about the experience of raising their little Texans, we’ve poured ourselves into our work, and like them we are proud of our creation. Now it’s time to send it out into the world.