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Media

The Recent Odd Mix of Observer Cover Stories

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Last Thursday, when I picked up a copy of the Dallas Observer, I was nonplussed by its cover story, which was about a guy in Scottsdale, Arizona, who buys art at estate sales and the like and resells it. The story itself was fine enough, but I kept waiting for it to have something — anything — to do with Dallas. It didn’t. The story reminded me of the cover story from a few weeks back about the financial collapse, which also had nothing to do with Dallas (well, not directly, at least). I asked the paper’s managing editor, Patrick Williams, what was going on. The paper is owned by Village Voice Media, formerly New Times, based in Phoenix. I know that in the past, the folks in Phoenix have dictated that certain stories run chain-wide. I asked Williams if that same sort of direction had resulted in these non-Dallas stories. Williams said:

This year the chain began producing national features for all the papers to use as they see fit. Both of those were national stories, the bank one from the Village Voice and the art picker from Phoenix. We also occasionally share stories with a statewide bent with the Houston Press. So far this year, we’ve produced one national feature ourselves: Megan Feldman’s piece from early in the year about that state of deserters seeking asylum in Canada.

Obviously we’d be all local all the time if we could, but the economy being what it is we’re determined to make the best use of the resources we have available, and since we have some great writers across the chain, this seems a natural way to go about it.

The decision on which national features we run is still made locally, though the big bosses decide which stories qualify as nationals.

As I told Williams, saving money like that makes sense. I’d do it, too, if I could — when it made sense. But the current art picker cover story doesn’t strike me as national. I think this “making the best use of resources” comes off awkwardly sometimes. The city’s media diet is more well-rounded when the Observer puts Dallas stories on its cover every week. There’s certainly enough to write about in the city.

They usually don’t ask my opinion at the Observer before they choose what goes on the cover, but if they had, this week I would have picked one of two stories for the cover before I picked the one out of Scottsdale: Jim Schutze’s column about how the Trinity Project could prove a boon for plaintiff’s lawyers, or Pete Freedman’s music story about the first band in the city to claim it plays music that embodies “the Dallas sound.” Both are more germane to Dallas. As for the Scottsdale story, if I had to run it to save money, I would have buried it.

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