Dailies brace for Arlington war
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has made its first major move to meet The Dallas Morning News' impending invasion of Arlington.
Gary Hardee, the well-regarded deputy executive editor of the Star-Telegram, will replace Mike Blackman, who took over the large Arlington bureau less than a year ago. Blackman will now go back downtown where he supervises the editorial department.
The Arlington staff, about 35-strong, produces a daily zoned section with Arlington news, sports, and editorials.
Hardee, a seasoned journalist who rose through the late Dallas Times Herald's sports department, has served as the top deputy to Star-Telegram Executive Editor Debbie Price and enjoys the trust of the paper's top management.
He will face a considerable challenge.
Though his paper enjoys major advantages--a circulation lead of more than 2-1, a larger reporting staff, and a years-old commitment to covering Arlington--the News will throw vast resources at the Star-Telegram in its aggressive push west.
Dallas' Only Daily is launching a brand-new Wednesday-through-Sunday paper in Arlington called the Arlington Morning News. The 16-page paper will include only Arlington news, sports, editorials, and advertising. A major marketing push has already begun.
Many other preparations are in place. Editor-publisher Gary Jacobson has selected his top deputies, BeloWatch has learned. Lawrence Young, a veteran News staffer, will serve as managing editor. Tracy Staton, former editor of both the Dallas Business Journal and Texas Business, will work as city editor.
They will preside over a news staff of about 25, including several reporters shifted over from Belo's scrawny Arlington News, which will be put to rest. The News has already stolen one staffer, Christopher Ave, from the Star-Telegram's Arlington bureau; Ave was reportedly barred from taking his Rolodex with him when he left. Another such heist from the Star-Telegram bureau is reportedly in the works.
Despite a frantic hiring push, other new positions remain unfilled, and a few staffers from the Morning News will fill in on a temporary basis.
The entire group will eventually move into the new headquarters of the Arlington Morning News--high-visibility space just south of I-30 and east of Collins. The new paper's name will appear on the outside of the building.
In setting its predatory sights on Arlington, the News is seeking to expand into a large and highly attractive market--upscale, growing, and filled with retail advertisers--where its readership is low. (The paper plans to start out publishing 20,000 copies daily and 25,000 on Sundays.)
Having maximized its circulation growth in other directions, the Morning News is seeking not merely to build an independent Arlington daily, but to boost circulation of The Dallas Morning News. The absence of Arlington coverage--the News previously had only a single reporter covering the city--has been a major obstacle to selling the paper to readers in Arlington. The Arlington Morning News will be sold both as a stand-alone paper and packaged with The Dallas Morning News.
The Star-Telegram is reportedly preparing to counter with major additions to its staff.
All of this guarantees one thing: Resident for resident, Arlington is about to become the most intensively covered city in Texas.
A rare (and belated) BeloWatch kudo goes to WFAA-Channel 8 investigative reporter Brett Shipp for his hard-nosed probe into problems with boozing in the office of longtime Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry.
In two early-February reports, Shipp revealed that four of Curry's staffers, three prosecutors and an investigator, have pled guilty to drunken-driving charges--but returned to work after serving suspensions. Shipp reasonably raised the question of whether convicted lawbreakers should be prosecuting others, noting that Dallas County District Attorney John Vance fires any employee even arrested on criminal charges.
Why the lax attitude?
Shipp's undercover camera tellingly filmed Curry following one of his tainted prosecutors into a scuzzy-looking bar.
Shipp overreached a bit, getting a little sanctimonious about the consequences of their then driving home. ("When people drink and get behind the wheel, just like Curry in this videotape, the potential for problems starts to multiply.")
Curry reasonably countered that "having a drink and driving is not against the law."
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Shipp nailed Curry's chief investigator, Don Moore, repeatedly visiting the bar during working hours--in a county Lincoln Continental, no less. His confrontation of the startled Moore outside the bar was classic, beginning with the investigator's denial that he was Moore:
"You cut out of work a little early today?" Shipp asked.
"No comment," grumbled Moore.
"How many hours a day do you work, sir?"
"This a county vehicle you're driving?"
"No comment," Moore muttered, as he ducked back into his car and drove off.
Shipp skillfully wrapped it all with indignant quotes from a Mothers Against Drunk Driving leader and the widow of Fort Worth police officer Alan Chick--killed by a drunk driver whom Curry's office prosecuted.
All in all, it was a nifty piece of work.
A final note: Incredibly, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, far too cozy with Curry for far too long, completely ignored this entire story.