Tim Taliaferro’s tenure as the sixth editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly is coming to an end a little over a year after it began—and a little over a month after the magazine found itself embroiled in an ethics controversy over an alleged pay-to-play arrangement related to its February issue’s cover story.
Taliaferro will transition to chief innovation officer beginning in May, the magazine said, in which capacity he’ll be responsible for exploring new distribution channels and brand extensions for Texas Monthly, including video, podcasting, and live events.
Rich Oppel—longtime editor of the Austin-American Statesman who was brought on as ombudsman last month as a response to the scandal—will take over as interim editor-in-chief at that time, until the search for a permanent replacement is concluded.
On January 26, the Columbia Journalism Review reported that Taliaferro had informed Texas Monthly staffers of a new partnership with the dating app Bumble—and its founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, who appeared on the February issue’s cover—under which Bumble would provide said cover story between $25,000 and $30,000 in paid social media promotion.
Taliaferro denied that the deal constituted a quid pro quo, telling CJR that, “This is publicity within the normal types of conversations editors have with publicists. Bumble is not an advertiser. There is no agreement here. They haven’t paid us anything.”
But CJR obtained emails exchanged between Taliaferro and Bumble representatives, including one in which a Bumble rep stated, “We’ll commit to a $25K spend, as we know the web traffic is so important for [Texas Monthly] and is part of what we promised,” raising widespread concerns that the magazine had waded into an ethical gray area.
“Taliaferro’s communications with Bumble publicists may have incorrectly appeared to be a blurred line between the editorial and business sides of the magazine,” CEO Paul Hobby admitted in a statement announcing Oppel’s hiring as ombudsman, though he, too, denied that it constituted any more than an “appearance of impropriety,” adding that Herd was “the best option” for the magazine’s February newsstand cover.
Taliaferro—who had previously been EIC of University of Texas alumni magazine Alcalde—replaced Brian Sweany atop the Texas Monthly masthead in November 2016, shortly after longtime owner Emmis Communications sold the title to Paul Hobby and private equity firm Genesis Park for $25 million.
“Throughout its 45-year history, Texas Monthly has been known for its quality journalism and an ironclad commitment to editorial integrity,” said Oppel in a statement Thursday. “These changes will help the organization continue in that tradition and bring our excellent stories to an even larger audience through innovative new avenues.”