Texas Monthly has made a high-profile hire as the magazine continues to push back against allegations its February cover story on the CEO of Austin-based dating site Bumble was the result of a pay-for-play arrangement.
The Austin-based magazine said it has hired former American-Statesman editor Rich Oppel to serve as a "third-party ombudsman."
Oppel, whose news team won three Pulitzers when he led the Charlotte Observer earlier in his career, "will review our processes and organizational structure and make recommendations for implementing every appropriate safeguard to protect our work," according to a written statement from Texas Monthly chairman and CEO Paul Hobby.
The move comes after Columbia Journalism Review published a piece on the magazine last month, citing interviews with unnamed staffers and internal emails it had obtained. Some staffers felt, according to the article, that Texas Monthly editor Tim Taliaferro had crossed an ethical line in his dealings with publicists for Bumble – something that Taliaferro and other members of the magazine’s leadership team have steadfastly denied.
The chief concern, according to Columbia Journalism Review, was that Taliaferro reportedly told some employees that Bumble had agreed to spend $25,000 to $30,000 on social media promotion for the magazine if the dating site’s CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd, was featured on the cover.
"I can’t stress enough how much is on the line for me with this deal," Taliaferro wrote in an email obtained by Columbia Journalism Review. "I must have this story perform and earn lots of eyeballs."
Hobby, in his statement, denied the magazine’s cover was for sale and said Taliaferro had apologized to staffers for his "misstep."
"Throughout our 45-year history, Texas Monthly has been known for our quality journalism and an ironclad commitment to editorial integrity," he said. "Our credibility is our most precious resource.
"The magazine did not and will not sell our covers. Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd was the best option for the cover of the newsstand copies of our February issue, and that’s why she’s featured. No money changed hands to promote any story. No editorial or cover considerations were influenced by outside interests.
"Editor-in-chief Tim Taliaferro’s communications with Bumble publicists may have incorrectly appeared to be a blurred line between the editorial and business sides of the magazine. When it comes to Texas Monthly’s journalism, even the appearance of impropriety can be damaging and is not acceptable. Taliaferro has acknowledged his misstep and regret to our staff, who care deeply about upholding the highest standards of journalism."
Genesis Park LP, an entity formed by Hobby, acquired Texas Monthly from Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications in 2016 for $25 million.
The influential Hobby family has a deep history in Texas journalism, having once owned the now-defunct Houston Post newspaper as well as TV and radio stations in Houston.