BeloWatch

Last of the great dull stories
The Dallas Morning News published a story that makes 15 minutes spent watching cement dry seem compelling.

The article, by urban affairs writer Chris Kelley, celebrated the retirement of some of the state's most noteworthy and heroic road builders.

Yup. Road builders.
You knew Kelley was in trouble when he trotted out the hoariest of cliches for his lead: "This week in Dallas, in Houston, Odessa and Tyler, in small and big towns throughout Texas, an era ends."

For a moment there, he seemed to be flirting with the slightly tongue in cheek--"Except for retirement parties, where a few will talk tenderly of roads built and bridges spanned, the passing will be silent"--before transitioning back into the simply dull: "This week, the last of the men and women who built Texas' modern transportation network--the freeways, overpasses, spurs and couplets--retire."

This story, headlined "End of the road--Pioneering Dallas highway builder, colleagues retire after paving the way," somehow found its way onto the front page of Dallas' Only Daily on August 28, and went on--and on--for 1335 words.

Kelley, a meticulous, even-tempered reporter whose solemn, studious projects have included his influential treatise on the need to dredge White Rock Lake, must have been paying off a debt to some of the many bureaucrats he deals with. How else can BeloWatch explain putting this snoozer on page one?

The "star" of Kelley's story was James Huffman, the man who, as local district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, gave us I-45 and many other distinguished stretches of concrete. Notes Kelley: "Drivers curse the rebuilding of North Central Expressway but have no idea that the massive project was made possible by Mr. Huffman's idea to create a separate project office to oversee it."

No idea indeed.
This story has everything.
It's got mock-mythic quotes ("These are the last of the freeway builders in Texas." And: "Guys like James Huffman, more than any others, have made Dallas what it is today.")

It's got log-rolling. (Huffman on a retiring colleague: "John Blain is the master of Texas highway planners. He's good as gold.")

And it's got an unquestioning and preposterous sense of awe at its subject. Notes Kelley, without a hint of bemusement: "Mr. Huffman and Mr. Blain said they have seen huge changes since starting their careers--including two departmental name changes."

The only intriguing note in the story goes entirely unexplored. Kelley mentions that Huffman, Blain, and thousands of others--including more than 1,500 from the transportation department alone--are taking advantage of state early-retirement incentives. That, of course, begs the question: if "the last of the freeway builders in Texas"--and hundreds of lesser lights--are leaving, who's going to build the freeways?

Is the state transportation department suffering a debilitating brain drain? It's enough to make you worry about whether all those freeways--Kelley says a record amount of construction is now under way in the Dallas district--are going to get built at all.

Or to conclude that Huffman, Blain, and Company--while fine roadbuilders, public servants, and good sources to an urban affairs writer--are more easily replaceable than Kelley's puffy paen to the pavement men would suggest.

What's in a name? Plenty
Pity the lowly clerk who compiled the agate type listing "area golf results" for the back page of Sports Day on September 5.

That is the day a local business executive's miraculous athletic achievement was finally reported in the pages of Dallas' Only Daily. It appeared deep within the "area golf results," under the heading "Holes in One."

This local businessman--apparently having leisure time on his hands during daylight hours on a Thursday--had been out on the fourth hole at Preston Trail on August 31 when it happened: One swing of the old seven-wood and--whoosh, then plop. 160 yards away! Right in the hole!

Naturally he must have been proud. So the hole-in-one was reported to the club, and, as the "Hole in One" report notes, "confirmed by course pros." Everything was verified for publication--along with the achievement of 37 other erstwhile duffers who also hit the mark--for all his friends to see.

Like the executive's shot, everything was perfect. Except for one maddening flaw.

Somehow, someone made a mistake--a dire mistake. An extra, unnecessary, unwanted "l" was inserted into the businessman's last name--right next to the needed "l." In at least 6--point type!

If the businessman had been an individual of less consequence in the city of Dallas, everyone involved might have written it off without a further thought--as a regrettable but innocent mistake. But given who the businessman was, the matter could not--absolutely could not!--be dropped.

And so it was that on Wednesday, September 6, the very next day, the "corrections, clarifications" column of The Dallas Morning News carried the following item: "On Page 14B of the Sports Day section Tuesday, Jeremy Halbreich's name was misspelled in a list of golfers who have recently made holes-in-one."

And so it was that the president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News finally had his name correctly spelled in his own newspaper.

Speaking of corrections
As several BeloWatch-trained readers have pointed out, Peter Elkind's "Editor's notes" column in the August 31 Observer sloppily misstated the year of the demise of the Dallas Times Herald as "late 1981." It was, of course, late 1991.

 
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