Party like it's 1999

Three wide-eyed promoters and the almighty A.H. Belo Corp. plan to boldly carry Big D and the rest of the world into the new millennium

For Kaplan, there was no question about which company he'd choose to peddle his dream to first. Since the late 1980s, Kaplan and Events Marketing and Management have teamed up with The Dallas Morning News to produce the annual Skifest exhibition and the World Golf Expo.

Certainly not everyone in Dallas has been to one of these shows, but most News subscribers have probably read about them. Every year, the newspaper generously offers up its news pages to help Kaplan publicize these annual shopping sprees.

Before last year's Skifest, for example, the News published a special section about the event that included 20 articles about what skiers could purchase during the three-day expo. Just in case the special section wasn't enough to draw a crowd, the newspaper published four additional "news" stories during the three months before the event.

So when it came time to find a messenger for The Turn, Kaplan made a beeline for Belo. There, he was embraced with love: Not only is Belo giving The Turn free advertising space, but it is also pimping the event to the Dallas business community on his behalf.

And what is the sales pitch? In the world of The Turn, the time to buy the future is now, according to the company's slick promotional materials.

"On the eve of the new millennium, The Dallas Morning News and its production partners are developing a monumental exposition that celebrates human triumphs and aspirations and showcases the contributions of leading corporations," the pitch goes. "For those who become corporate partners, this unique event is an opportunity to claim the future."

And sell it.
Unfortunately, all of the details about the Turn-Belo relationship will, for now, remain a secret. Halbreich chose not to speak with the Dallas Observer about the event, and his employees are under strict orders not to speak with us.

A cynic may see this passing-of-the-hat as a shallow attempt to corral new Belo advertisers, who will profit from their charity by participating in a business trade show masked as a celebration of humanity. Or it may be viewed as the act of a responsible corporate citizen that is simply ensuring a smooth transition into a brighter future.

Like all heads-up news organizations, the News knows that the discovery that the "future wears a human face" is certainly a big scoop. Publicity surrounding this news must be handled with caution. After all, how will people handle the news that the future will be a happy, human place led by the achievements of corporate America? What will they think of a new millennium that's sponsored by news organizations, which will knock down the meddlesome wall between editorial and marketing?

In this new age of civic journalism, conceived in the corporate mergers of the 1980s and 1990s and destined to mature in the new millennium, the News is implementing The Turn with steady determination.

Once Halbreich realized the significance of Kaplan's vision, he approached business leaders with the information himself, fulfilling something of a Dallas and Belo tradition.

One need only look to the great 1936 Texas Centennial for evidence. The late Robert L. Thornton, former candy salesman, mayor, and banker, won Dallas the honor of hosting the much-sought-after Centennial only after he personally secured the financial commitment of the Dallas business community.

With every step Thornton made, the mighty Belo was at his side. In fact, when there appeared a slight chance that Thornton's bid for the Centennial might fail, the News came to the rescue.

In his historical account of the Centennial, Centennial '36: The Year America Discovered Texas, author Kenneth Ragsdale reports that the News published a story that trumpeted how Dallas had defeated Houston and San Antonio for the bid before the committee that was making the decision had voted.

The story, immediately decried as fiction by members of the Centennial committee, may have been a slight lapse in journalistic ethics, but dammit, the city's future was at stake.

In the grand tradition of the Centennial, Halbreich personally brought news of The Turn to the who's who of Dallas business during an exclusive luncheon at the Dallas Museum of Art earlier this spring. The attendees included Ross Perot Sr., developer Raymond Nasher, and restaurateur Norman Brinker.

"It was one of those meetings where I thought, how did I end up on the invitation list? Some very impressive folks were there, and it went very well," says Craig Holcomb, the executive director of Friends of Fair Park. "Jeremy Halbreich stood up and said, 'Belo Corporation is behind this project, and we want you to know about it.'"

While the News is driving The Turn's publicity campaign, Kaplan already is getting the kind of editorial coverage he's accustomed to when he puts on his golf and ski expos.

The first printed word of The Turn appeared in the form of a lengthy article on the front page of the News' Metropolitan section on May 2, five days before the event was officially announced at the Hall of State reception.

A second, shorter story appeared inside the metro section on Friday, May 8, a day after the reception. Packed with quotes from Mayor Kirk and Kaplan, who could know that the News' own Halbreich had taken the project under his wing? Certainly no one who read that story, or the editorial that appeared the following Sunday under the headline: "Dallas' Turn: Here is ideal way to usher in the new millennium."

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