Strange bedfellows

So...The Dallas Morning News is getting into the weekly newspaper business.
According to an August 23 "media advisory," Dallas' Only Daily has entered into a "consulting relationship" with The Met, Not Dallas' Only Weekly.

So much for being an "alternative to the alternative"--The Met is now part of Dallas' Evil Empire.

Talk about a strange marriage.
According to The Met's "media advisory"--the paper published nothing on the subject in its latest issue--the News will assist The Met "by providing the weekly with services ranging from marketing to distribution."

"Through the agreement," it adds, "The Dallas Morning News will assist The Met in promoting its personals and romance ads."

Met pooh-bahs went on to insist that the News will have no ownership interest or control of the little weekly, and that there will be "no changes" in The Met's editorial policies or direction.

The simple fact of the matter is this: The Met was an unprofitable newspaper. But for the involvement of the News--or some other outside force--it would disappear from the face of Dallas.

"No changes"? Consider this press-release comment from Met publisher Randy Stagen: "We value the opportunity to draw on the experience of The Dallas Morning News and feel confident that it will assist us with our aggressive growth strategy."

In short, The Met and News--for the moment, at least--are partners. Is it likely the weekly is going to bite the hand keeping it alive? Does Dallas really need another Belo-controlled voice?

The News, for its part, published a story by Laura Castaneda in the Friday, August 28, business section that did a remarkable thing: it provided even less information than the press release.

The eight-inch article, oddly, made no mention of the News' involvement in the controversial personals business--those "lookin' for love" ads that highly offend a vocal sliver of the News' readership.

In this unholy alliance, both sides are trying to have it both ways.
The Met styles itself the irreverent voice of young, devil-may-care Dallas. Yet it's hopping in bed with the mouthpiece of the Dallas establishment--an age-spotted monopoly daily with an allergy to lively writing and journalistic point of view.

The News styles itself an upbeat family newspaper, the ultimate voice of civility and decency. Yet it's seeking to cash in--without sullying its own hands--on the lucrative personals business. Though no terms were disclosed, the News "will be compensated," Casteneda reported.

It won't wash. Met editor Eric Celeste may, as he declares in his paper's press release, get to keep shaving his head bald. But will he continue to offer his stream-of-consciousness ramblings about watching too much porn and jerking off? Will you hear any more from The Met about the "warm blanket of conformity" and the "Belo Big Chill"? Don't hold your breath. The "Belo Big Chill" is about to ice The Met.

Silence will come first. Then Belo will increase its control and eventually take over--or cut its losses and let The Met fold.

Why does Belo bother? Daily newspapers have been greedily eyeing alternative weeklies for years--partly out of panic over losing younger readers, and partly because well-run weeklies are solidly profitable.

Still, for a media behemoth like Belo, the weekly newspaper business would seem to be beneath notice.

News president Jeremy Halbreich told his reporter it's simply "a business opportunity."

Don't believe it. Dallas' Only Daily has a little extra motivation.
It's called the Dallas Observer.
When the News put the Dallas Times Herald in its grave in late 1981, the Observer noted its staff of 12 was squaring off against reportorial hordes of hundreds.

In the four years since, we have told stories the News wouldn't touch; revealed connections the News wouldn't explore; and offered truths the News wouldn't tell.

We've also had a little to say about doings at Dallas' Only Daily.
No wonder the News is throwing in with The Met. It wants nothing less than to crush some exceedingly annoying competition--while letting someone else do the dirty work.

Wick's way
Wick Allison, the past-and-present publisher of D Magazine, is delusional.
It hasn't taken Allison long to show he can breathe a little life into a brain-dead magazine. The September issue of the reborn D--the first with Allison fully in the saddle--has more bite than the eight preceding it combined. "...This is an editors' magazine," Allison declares, "driven by our passions, informed by our interests and presented from our perspective. We take responsibility for every word printed in it because we agree with every word printed in it."

No kidding.
The new issue features a remarkable screed from former Dallas mayor Steve Bartlett, attacking what it calls "the myths of Laura Miller." In this piece--headlined "Does Ray Hunt Own City Hall? Or has one of Dallas' best reporters gone absolutely nuts?"--the ex-mayor offers a dishonest but impassioned defense of Hunt, himself, and the miserable public process through which he has sought to bring us a new sports arena.

Bartlett displays a politician's gift for lashing out at straw men, rather than employing facts to address genuine issues--as well as a total inability to admit doing anything wrong. Particularly remarkable is his dishonest characterization of a federal judge's ruling that a city council arena committee had been conducting illegal meetings.

"At one point," the former mayor declares in D, "even a federal judge got caught up in the Miller Myths and ruled that the council was not allowed to appoint a committee under some as yet undisclosed federal law." U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall, in fact, was quite precise: the committee flagrantly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. Hey, Steve: Try reading the opinion.

Bartlett's other rantings, about Observer columnist Miller's coverage of the arena issue, are similarly disengaged from reality. Incredibly, he's still clinging to the notion that the public money the arena will require--$35 million at last count, according to the city's most recent offer--couldn't be used for anything else because it's not coming from the general tax fund. (That, of course, is Bartlett's fallback position from his original promise that "no public money will be spent on the arena.")

Here at the Observer, we're all very flattered to see the ex-mayor so absorbed with Laura Miller's arena writings. It's too bad he wouldn't actually debate the facts with her, instead of distorting them; while in office, Bartlett refused invitations from both KERA-Channel 13 and KRLD radio to do just that.

Explaining the origin of this story in D, Allison notes his own association with the central players. "Ray Hunt was the major backer of the original D, and to my mind he's one of the most thoughtful, honorable, and decent men in this or any other city. Former mayor Steve Bartlett has been my close friend since we were both 14 years old."

Incredibly, Allison then goes on to portray his buddies--two of Dallas' most influential men--as the mistreated victims of media bullies. "I had not seen anything in the local press that came to their defense," writes Wick. "That made me angry. Good men ought to fight back against such slurs, but often don't know how. I hope Steve's article will give others heart that one-sided slants are no longer the rule in this town."

If Allison hadn't seen anything in the local press supporting Bartlett and Hunt, it's because he hasn't made it past the stock tables. Virtually the entire establishment of this city--starting with The Dallas Morning News--has been behind the new arena from the start. Dallas was ready to write the project a blank check. No one but Observer columnist Miller was even asking questions.

The fruits of her extraordinary work over the past year are clear. This enormous public project is now under scrutiny. Citizens are asking questions. Public servants are having to give answers. The process is more open.

And that's the way it should be.
If that kind of journalism constitutes "slurs," Wick Allison's D magazine is even more of a throwback to the old Dallas than we thought.

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Peter Elkind