What Preconceptions about Dallas Will the New Dude at the Morning News Bring With Him?

You saw here yesterday that The Dallas Morning News named a new editor to replace Bob Mong, who is retiring. I always admired Mong, a fact I tried to keep to myself. I know nothing about the new person, Mike Wilson.

James M. Moroney III, president of A.H. Belo, owner of the News, said, "I was looking for someone with experiences leading a traditional newsroom's transition to the digital environment..."

The transition from print to digital journalism is of urgent importance to all of us in the field. In fact I think about nothing else. In fact I think about it so much that I have been searching the Bible for answers. I think maybe I came up with a pretty good one from Exodus 5:

That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don't reduce the quota. They are lazy. That is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

I know that's why I cry out.

Meanwhile the only personal information I gleaned from coverage of the announcement of the new editor's appointment was that he had asked for barbecue. It's not an inconsequential detail. People ask for barbecue when they have preconceptions about Texas, and everybody's got preconceptions about Texas.

When I'm not thinking about the transition to digital, which I think about all the time, I think about preconceptions about Texas. I had a ton of them when I moved here from Detroit 96 years ago. They were all wrong. I expected cowboys and Indians. Instead I found Rhett Butler and Scarlett, and, by the way, the ones here hadn't found out yet how the movie ends.

And everything has changed since then. Now if your preconceptions are Gone with the Wind (Scarlett is a woman who can deal with a nation at war), you'll get here and find Queen. (A Delhi girl from a traditional family sets out on a solo honeymoon after her marriage gets canceled).

The other night at our annual company party I talked to Gavin Cleaver, our departing web editor, and his wife, Rachael, about their preconceptions. They're Brits. They told me all of their ideas about Dallas turned out to be wrong. In some ways the city was way better than they had expected, in some ways way worse.

They landed somewhere in Suburbs North in an area they described as the most impossibly diverse and international milieu they had ever experienced anywhere. Everybody around them is from everywhere else all over the world. They said many businesses in their area are totally non-English-speaking, forget about it. The people around them probably look at them and think they must be the rednecks they had expected to find.

It's not even right, Brits being the closest thing people can find to rednecks. It's an improper representation. But there you have it.

They seem to love and be delighted by that aspect of what they found the truth to be. I asked them what was worse than what they had expected. They said they had never seen so much concrete in all their lives.

That's so true. I was coming back from somewhere, and I looked down at the region from the plane and started worrying that the amount of concrete here might cause some sort of over-burden, like it might put the planet into an orbital wobble or something. It seems like too much concrete all on one shoulder.

So there's way less barbecue here, much more machi bhat than a newcomer might expect, way less horse pasture, way more multiplex. Daycare centers are in malls. Malls themselves seem to be contained within malls -- smaller malls inside big malls, big malls within huge malls, and sooner or later you forget there is even a world beyond malls.

My advice to the new editor? Insist on the barbecue. It's great here. Sometimes you have to use sign language and point at the menu, but it's worth the embarrassment.

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