Fun and Justice

A reunion seemed like a great idea. Get together 10 years after the slaying to drink heartily, remember the good times, bad times, all that was the Dallas Times Herald. Some of its former employees, who tossed the idea around for months, could meet at the great journalist's bar Joe Miller's, except that it's shut down, too. If they really wanted to have a reunion, they could invade the bar frequented by their former enemies, the staff at the victorious Dallas Morning News, except that there is no such bar because most of the Snoozies are too old, boring and respectable to regularly inhabit such an establishment, which is one reason that newspaper is still alive, dry and no dang fun.

Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that the get-together on December 9--which marked the 10-year anniversary of the day the 112-year-old Dallas Times Herald was shut down by The Dallas Morning News--never happened. "Planning and execution were never the Herald's strong suits," says a former reporter, laughing. True. And were the Morning News to organize such a gathering (and, given that the anniversary passed without mention in the Dallas Paper of Record, it's safe to say it wouldn't), hotel ballrooms would be rented out months in advance, and invitations would be sent stating appropriate attire. Best then, in the spirit of all that was the Times Herald, that any toasts by former employees to the memory of a two-newspaper town were done in solitude with, I like to imagine, a highball glass of cheap liquor.

Because the legacy of the Times Herald was just that: a working-class paper that burned your throat and warmed your gut (and, if you took in too much too fast, you just may puke). It was not a "sophisticated" paper, as the Morning News likes to see itself, even though the Herald had some great writers working there. (The best known, of course, was Molly Ivins, but scores of writers from that paper went on and proved themselves as A-list talent, including our own Jim Schutze and Robert Wilonsky.) It wanted to be a paper that spoke plainly, in the best sense of the word. When it was a truly fantastic paper, from about 1975 to 1985, and even when it was wildly uneven, in its final years, the Herald was a paper with voices that hummed.

"What distinguished the Herald were its local columnists and its great writers writing with perspective, and their desire to explore what was going on in the city," says Roy Bode, the last editor of the Times Herald. "It had writers writing with a sense of outrage, which you didn't--and still don't--find in the Morning News."

Still, does it really matter that the Times Herald is gone? Sure, Newsweek named it one of the "best five newspapers in the South," but that was 26 years ago. It's not as though folks need more news now. With local newscasts, cable television and the Internet, people are saturated with news. And to say that The Dallas Morning News is a bad paper would be ridiculous. Many smart, hard-working people put together a very thick paper every day with many stories about many things happening about town and overseas. The Morning News is packed full of so very many charts and figures and words and images that it must fully meet the needs of you, the news consumer, right?

"I think The Dallas Morning News is still one of the best papers in the country," Bode says. "There's no doubt, though, it would be better with the Herald still around."

That's really the question, isn't it: Would the News be a stronger paper today if the Herald were still published? There are good arguments for each side of this debate. To sift through the contrasting opinions, you need to know the long history and short life of the Dallas Times Herald.

"The Times Herald was a Ferrari for a few years, until we blew the engine out of it."

--Will Jarrett, former DTH managing editor and executive editor

Until the mid-'70s, the Dallas Times Herald was a typical Texas newspaper, meaning it was about as cunning and aggressive as a gerbil. In Dallas especially, newspapering was a gentleman's game. The big decisions about which stories a newspaper would cover were made in backrooms by soft white rich men in suits--politicos and corporate honchos and the like.

About 1975, the Times Mirror Corp., owner of the Herald, began to make substantive changes to editorially challenge the somnolent Morning News. During the next several years, they brought in young, talented, kick-'em-in-the-nuts-and-smile writers and editors who enjoyed angering arrogant public officials and warring with their crosstown rivals. The editor came from The Washington Post, the No. 2 man came from The Philadelphia Inquirer, and they hired folks from Detroit and Miami and New York. It quickly became the kind of paper that shook people. The kind of paper that accepts Mayor Robert Folsom into its executive offices, listens as said mayor demands that a city audit report not be written about, then laughs as that day's paper was shoved under the mayor's face, where he sees the banner headline proving it ran that very morning and hears the editor say, "Guess you don't read the morning paper, Mr. Mayor." It was a paper with balls.

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Eric Celeste
Contact: Eric Celeste