Born in New York, Smith has a bachelor's degree in public policy from Hamilton College and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (which inducted him into its Hall of Achievement in April 2006). He previously held editorial positions at a number of national magazines, most recently as deputy editor at The New Republic. Smith has written for GQ and other national magazines. Since February 2003, he has hosted a weekly interview program, Texas Monthly Talks, which airs on PBS stations all across Texas.
Smith is currently president of the Austin Film Society board and sits on the boards of the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, Trinity Episcopal School, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, the Headliners Club, and Matinee Media. He is also the founding co-chair of the Texas Film Hall of Fame. He served for five years on the board of the American Society of Magazine Editors, most recently as its vice president, and for six years on the board of KLRU, Austin's public television station.
Since Smith took over as editor, Texas Monthly has been nominated for 14 National Magazine Awards, the magazine industry's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. In April 2003, Texas Monthly was awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence for only the third time in its history.