Ben Rowen, a senior editor, recently received what in the military is known as a battlefield promotion. A Texas Monthly staffer since 2020, he began directing our coverage of news and politics just weeks before the deadline for our biennial Best and Worst Legislators story—one of the most popular features we produce and one of the most challenging to organize, report, write, edit, illustrate, and fact-check.
This year the level of difficulty kept rising, as lawmakers kept failing to act on their priorities, including property tax cuts and school vouchers, and faced the prospect of multiple special sessions. Yet Ben stepped up, led a stellar team of journalists, and delivered a Best and Worst list in the July issue that was tough, fair, serious on the issues, and appropriately amusing when depicting the zany personalities who, God help us, craft our laws.
What’s more, as Ben’s boss, Sandi Villarreal, our deputy editor for digital coverage, observed, “He never turns down the rough assignment.” Early last year he went “skiing” on Mount Aggie in College Station, where the dry slope is covered in Astroturf. Last summer Ben wrote about his attraction to the newish sport of kayak polo. During this year’s legislative session, he stumbled onto a rare flowering of bipartisan comity in, of all places, a karaoke bar. And in our latest cover story, Ben chronicles the growth of a cutting-edge surf park in Waco, whose machine-made waves are attracting riders from as far away as Greece. “I’ve tried to surf on real waves and was terrible at it,” Ben said. “But the coaches at the park in Waco were able to teach even me to stand up on the board.”
Before joining Texas Monthly, Ben worked in California as an editor for the now defunct Pacific Standard magazine. A native of New York City, he earned a BA in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and never looked back, except to root for his beloved Yankees (who, bless their hearts, lost 0–4 to the Astros in last year’s American League Championship Series).
While he hasn’t yet become an Astros or Rangers fan, Ben has adopted many other Texan enthusiasms, for everything from the Davis Mountains to smoked meats. (“I thought I’d eaten barbecue before I got here,” he says. “I was wrong.”) During last year’s election season, he stepped away from his editing duties and drove 1,454 miles through El Paso, Marfa, Pecos, Lubbock, and Plainview, seeking out some of the 9.6 million Texans who were registered to vote but didn’t. He heard some interesting explanations (e.g., “My candidates never win”) and learned that nonvoters are fairly evenly balanced in their leanings toward Democrats and Republicans.
So what’s the biggest difference between covering politics in California and in Texas? “There, politicians return your phone calls,” Ben says. “Here they don’t, but if you track them down in person, they’re glad to yell at you, and when they’re finished yelling, many will answer your questions.”
Our journalists have brought home a trove of prizes recently, starting at the prestigious James Beard Media Awards ceremony, in Chicago, where our taco editor, José Ralat, won his second consecutive medal for outstanding food writing. A few days later, at the City and Regional Magazine Awards, in Baltimore, Texas Monthly landed five prizes, more than any other publication. Winners included creative director Emily Kimbro, senior editor Russell Gold, executive editor Skip Hollandsworth, and the digital team led by Sandi Villarreal.
Finally, the Society of Publication Designers, in New York City, awarded five gold and silver medals to our art staff, including for Best of Genre and in the categories for original digital photography, photography for a service feature, travel photography, and design of a social media channel. Kudos to Kimbro and her team: Victoria Millner, Claire Hogan, Jenn Hair Tompkins, Darice Chavira, Kayla Miracle, and Kim Thwaits.
Awards are validating, but the recognition we value most is yours, especially when you call out our foibles and suggest ways to make Texas Monthly better. Thanks for reading us.