Writing a new chapter

Revered Austin journalist Evan Smith exiting post as CEO of Texas Tribune

Revered Austin journalist Evan Smith will exit post at Texas Tribune

Evan Smith Texas Tribune
The distinguished journalist will leave his CEO post at the Tribune by the end of this year. Photo by Texas Tribune

Longtime Austin fixture Evan Smith, who helped hone Texas Monthly magazine’s reputation and helped build The Texas Tribune into a powerhouse in nonprofit journalism, is stepping down as CEO of The Texas Tribune by December 31.

“Like so many during the crazy two years of the pandemic, I feel my battery slowly draining — in my favorite film analogy, the boulder is catching up to Indiana Jones — so I’ve encouraged our board to begin the process of identifying my successor,” Smith writes in a January 12 post on The Texas Tribune’s website.

“After months of discussion, they’re ready to rev up a national search with the help of a respected recruiting firm they’ve selected,” Smith adds. “I’ve committed to remaining in place while they do and to assisting with the transition once the lucky duck [is in] place — and for some time after. At the board’s request, I’ve agreed to stick around through the end of 2023 as a senior adviser to my replacement. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

Smith says he has no plans yet for the post-Tribune era.

“I’ve had two jobs in 30 years. I’ve never been out of work for a day during that period,” Smith writes. “It will be good to have the time and bandwidth to think hard about what’s next.

“What I know for sure is that there will be a next. Another thing I know for sure is that I’ll be rooting loudest and hardest for every one of my colleagues. I believe in them more than ever. I will bleed yellow and black [the Tribune’s signature colors] until the end. And I believe in public-interest journalism more than ever.”

Smith joined Austin-based Texas Monthly in 1992 as senior editor. Eight years later, he was elevated to editor-in-chief. During his tenure there, Texas Monthly picked up 16 nominations for the National Magazine Awards and twice won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.

In 2009, Smith left Texas Monthly to co-found The Texas Tribune, an Austin-based nonprofit website dedicated to covering government and politics across the state. He came aboard at the Tribune as editor-in-chief and CEO. Sewell Chan, previously an editor at the Los Angeles Times, succeeded Smith as editor-in-chief in October.

Over the course of 13 years, the Tribune has accumulated a number of prestigious honors, including a host of Edward R. Morrow awards and a Peabody Award. The Tribune is regularly held up as a pioneer among nonprofit news organizations and has become a must-read for Texans craving straight-shooting government and political news.

The Tribune also has gained notice for the many events it has created, including the annual Texas Tribune Festival, drawing an array of headline-grabbing speakers and attendees. 

In his online post, Smith doesn’t address whether he’ll continue hosting Overheard With Evan Smith, which airs nationwide on PBS stations.

As for the Tribune, Smith believes it’s time to reinvigorate its leadership.

“I’ve concluded that the only way for us to change, evolve, grow is with someone in charge who isn’t a keeper of the flame,” he writes. “I may have built this thing, but I can’t and shouldn’t be an obstacle to the rebuilding of this thing. Nor should I be an obstacle to the new generation, a generation more representative of the Texas of today, getting a chance to lead.”