One of the many pleasures of my job is fielding phone calls and emails and letters from readers who enjoy Texas Monthly’s beautifully designed features on travel and the outdoors. Many of them say, “Please pass along my compliments to your art department!” And I gladly do that. But I also spread the love to executive editor Kathy Blackwell, who, in partnership with our photo editors and designers, directs our coverage of all there is to see and do across the Lone Star State, from the best towns for antiquing to the most scenic parks for hiking and camping.
Kathy is the editor responsible for our lively new hotel package, “Where to Stay Now.” It focuses on what she describes as “the return to an emphasis on luxury and pampering of guests” at many of Texas’s new and renovated hotels and resorts, following a tough stretch for the hospitality industry during the worst of the pandemic. Kathy and two colleagues, executive editor Courtney Bond and writer-at-large Sarah Hepola, sampled dozens of fine lodgings in order to guide readers toward the best of the bunch. As always, they paid full price and did not identify themselves as journalists during their visits. One hotel that didn’t make the cut: a pricey Houston resort that had fifteen-minute waits for the elevators and provided only one towel and no bath mat.
In late March Kathy and a few TM colleagues undertook a different kind of travel: to New York City, where another of her creations—our July 2022 cover package entitled “Springs Eternal!”—was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award, our industry’s equivalent of an Oscar nomination. Kathy imbued that package with Texas-size ambitions, with 38 stories and sidebars spread across vividly photographed pages that celebrated all the ways we enjoy the state’s swimming holes, rivers, lakes, beaches, and pools.
The stories Kathy edits are popular not only among our print subscribers, most of whom live in Texas, but also among our online readers, some 55
percent of whom are from out of state. That growing audience poses a challenge to Kathy, and to senior editor Rose Cahalan, who serves as her travel editor counterpart at texasmonthly.com (and who penned a fine appreciation of Texas state parks in our April issue). “When we write about where to stay and what to do in El Paso,” Kathy says, “that might represent a new adventure for someone from out of state or even from Houston, so we want it to serve their needs. But we also want the story to be smart for readers who live in El Paso and know the city well.” To achieve that objective, “we do a lot of reporting that the reader never sees, on places that, in the end, don’t make it into the story.”
Kathy edits our coverage of not only travel and the outdoors but also of Texas style and design, including a recent clever piece on barbecue fashion by Daniel Vaughn, our longtime barbecue editor. In fashion coverage, Kathy says, it’s important that we write primarily for Texans. “We don’t define what ropers are or what an Open Road Stetson is.” We love our out-of-state readers and those who are new to Texas, and we trust they know how to Google any unfamiliar terms.
Born and reared in South Carolina, Kathy began her career at newspapers in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida. One day in 1999, she was emailing with a friend at the Austin American-Statesman and mentioned, very casually, “Well, let me know if any good jobs open up there.” The friend went to check out the office bulletin board, and someone at that very moment happened to post an opening for a business editor. Kathy won the job and worked fourteen years for the paper. She left to serve as editor in chief of Austin Way, a lifestyle magazine where she honed many of the talents that we’re pleased to now have on display in every issue of Texas Monthly.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Travels With Kathy.” Subscribe today.