This is an editor’s letter I never wanted to write. After a forty-year career at Texas Monthly, my friend and colleague Paul Burka has decided to retire after this issue (you can read his farewell column, “What I’ve Learned,” on page 16). Paul, this magazine’s senior executive editor, has long been revered as the dean of the Capitol press corps, and he is the single most important observer of the Legislature that the state has ever produced. But to every writer and editor he worked with at the magazine over the decades, he was the guy who improved your ideas, sharpened your prose, helped you with your sources, and knew the answers you didn’t. He could be tough, but you wanted his advice because he made you a better journalist. He certainly made Texas Monthly a better magazine.
Paul joined the staff in October 1974 as an associate editor, and it took him no time to become a force in the editorial department. He had an opinion on everything: politics, barbecue, the Houston Astros, criminal justice, the best spot in Big Bend, the Southwest Conference, Texas literature, and Galveston—always Galveston (Paul is BOI and proud of it).
He has written more signature stories than he probably cares to remember, and he won a National Magazine Award in 1985 for his epic two-part profile of Clinton Manges. Yet his political writing stands in a league of its own, from profiles of John Connally and Ann Richards to incisive articles about how the Lege really works. He transformed the biennial Best and Worst Legislators feature into the most authoritative analysis in the state, and Burkablog has become one of the most popular—and important—destinations on texasmonthly.com.
His success came in part from his sheer talent as a writer, but talent alone is never enough. Paul always emphasized integrity and accuracy. He told writers more than once to consider the meanest line in any story about a person and then ask yourself if it was fair. Never, he would say, judge a person simply by his or her worst day. Above all, Paul believed in doing what was right for Texas, and he wasn’t afraid to face his critics. You couldn’t cover politics for forty years if you weren’t willing to stand behind your convictions.
Paul plans to keep an eye on the Lege this session, and I know I will be asking his advice on this year’s Best and Worst list. Burkablog will remain as well—I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute—but without Paul in the office on a daily basis, passing along the latest scoop, one thing is certain: Texas Monthly will never be the same.