Bill Murchison Says News Has Lost Its "Personality, Spirit and Flavor"

In the latest issue of The Weekly Standard, former Dallas Morning News columnist William Murchison reviews Judith Garrett Segura's Belo: From Newspapers to New Media, published in September by the University of Texas Press. (Segura worked at the paper from 1981 till 2004, and she was, among other things, Belo's first public affairs manager.) But his is less a review of the tome than a look back at The News that was and isn't any longer, far as he's concerned. Because as Robert Decherd takes a raise even while A.H. Belo's stock trades well below the $2 mark, Segura, Murchison and others wonder: What next? If, that is, there is a next, as Tim Rogers ponders this a.m. on FrontBurner.

Murchison, now a visiting journalism prof at Baylor, does have a few suggestions for his former home. ("So entertain! Inform!") As the Standard review is subscription-only, after the jump a few highlights. --Robert Wilonsky

Segura buys into the tale of "angry, mean-spirited rants" that poisoned the political tone of Dallas. To which I am obliged to reply: balderdash, lady. The mean-spiritedness of the old News editorial page is an urban myth of the same dimensions and longevity as alligators-in-the-sewer. In any case, the new family team that began running the News in the 1980s brought in new submanagers who, over time, eradicated any reputation the paper might have had for personality, spirit, and flavor. No more conservative "ranting," that's for sure.

To what purpose? The goal might be described as unclear. If the idea was to increase circulation, that inspiration fell short. A whole lot of ex-subscribers quit because, as they explained, the new News bored them, never saying much that was worth hearing, never causing the blood to surge, the tear to well, or the corners of the mouth to crinkle in amusement.

The formula for staying alive in the new media age has, I would think, as much to do with content as with method and means. You're in the entertainment/information business. So entertain! Inform! Don't take for granted the kind of reader loyalty the sahibs of the old Dallas News enjoyed for so long. It doesn't exist. You have to compete for that: Fight for it, yell and punch for it. And then leave something worth taking away, to be chewed on thoughtfully by those who trusted you to instruct them.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky