One Man’s Appreciation of Quick

I named Quick. Or maybe Dennis Hall did. I honestly don’t remember which of us came up with the name, but I know it was one of us. And since Dennis is rarely around to dispute me, I just tell people it was my idea.

In the fall of 2002, Dennis and I were two of a dozen or so Gen-X Dallas Morning News employees who were recruited for a secret mission. We were detached from our jobs for a week, put up in a Belo property a few blocks from our office, and tasked with brainstorming new products that would appeal to young people. The group broke into pairs and trios and began spitballing crazy ideas. The only one that sticks with me was a sidewalk kiosk that would give you news in your areas of interest based on a password or a swipe card. (I know, I know — you have to understand that this was long before smart phones or iPads would make such an immobile idea ridiculous.) Dennis and I came up with a much simpler concept: a newspaper with shorter stories. We called it Quick.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was on deadline, Tim came over to my desk and asked, “Didn’t you work at Quick?” Since Dennis was nowhere to be found, I replied, “Not only did I work there, I named that thing.” Tim said, “Well, they’re shutting it down.”

I didn’t have time to be floored at that moment, but once I got off deadline, it was all I could think about. I loved that little paper, and I loved the experience of contributing to its creation for its first three years. So I want to give it a proper sendoff. This may take awhile, so if you don’t have some time to kill, move on to the next post.

Dennis and I and the rest of the secret team went back to our normal jobs after that week. We were told not to discuss the week’s events with our colleagues. We were told this by the same management team that gave us T-shirts to mark the occasion. (Process that for a second — how many secret organizations have commemorative T-shirts?) About a year later, the Morning News brass got wind of Jeremy Halbreich’s plans to launch A.M. Journal Express. The bosses got out all of our team’s ideas, dusted them off, and began debating which one would be the easiest to execute quickly. Quick was a natural.

A new dirty dozen was assembled. Most of us were Gen-Xers. Others were Morning News veterans recruited to ride herd on us young ’uns. Besides me, I believe there was only one other holdover from the secret team: Stephen Becker, who now writes for KERA’s Art & Seek blog. The others were:

Kerri Abrams
Rob Clark
Mary Dunklin
Dan Galvis
Steve Kenny
Lori Price
Drew Reese
Samantha Shaddock
Chuck Stewart
Chris Wienandt

I recall being told on a Tuesday afternoon that I was being detached from my job again; we all gathered for the first time the next day. That’s when we were told that Quick’s debut issue was scheduled to hit the street the following Monday. We created this new newspaper in a section of the Morning News’ basement called “the war room,” presumably because that’s where the established paper would be produced in the event that the rest of the building was bombed.

Ironically, the war room was bombed twice daily over the next several weeks — not with explosives but with food. Laura Gordon, Quick’s original publisher, figured that if we were going to create a daily newspaper in less than a week, we wouldn’t have time to plan meals. So she had her assistant plan them for us. Pizza, deli sandwiches, barbecue, pasta — the grub just kept on coming. The only problem was Laura’s assistant came from the 9-to-5 world. She didn’t catch on for a while that most of us arrived at the office between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, i.e. two to three hours after lunch for 12 people was delivered to the war room. I vividly remember walking in there one day to find at least three dozen rock-hard baked potatoes. Others still laugh about the way a restaurant mislabeled a huge vat of cole slaw; yesterday afternoon, Mary Dunklin wrote the following on Chuck Stewart’s Facebook wall: “Drinking a cup of coslo to drown my sorrows.”

The decision about what to put on the first cover was labored. It was football season, so the results of the Cowboys game seemed like a natural fit. But we weren’t just targeting young people; we were primarily targeting young women, and Laura didn’t want readers to assume Quick was a sports publication. I forget why POW Jessica Lynch was in the news that week — maybe she was releasing a book or appearing on 20/20 — but the first cover was a picture of her looking distraught next to the headline “Jessica’s Ordeal.” All of us were given framed copies of that first cover, and it became a mildly amusing metaphor at my house. My wife’s name is Jessica, and Quick was her ordeal because it was keeping me at work five evenings a week.

I busted deadline on that first issue. You have to understand, it was the first time I had ever tried to proofread anything while Jim Moroney and Robert Decherd were popping champagne bottles and giving toasts just inches from my computer.

Within a couple of weeks, a corner of the regular newsroom was carved out as Quick’s new home. Now that we were visible to the rest of the company, the food deliveries stopped. Other Morning News staffers raised their eyebrows when our corner was enclosed in glass, but this was not because we were a bunch of delicate geniuses who needed a quiet space to create. In fact, the walls went up because we were placed near the business copy desk, and their copy chief at the time had a reputation as being intolerant of noise. (So a newsroom was the perfect place for her to work.)

Each of us on the original staff was told we had to stick with Quick for six months. After that, we could go back to our old jobs if we wanted to. Most of the dozen wanted to revert, but for me, it was quite the opposite. For the first three years of my Morning News employment, my job consisted of little more than laying out suburban supplements to the Metro section. I was bored out of my skull. During one of my annual reviews, I said it was the easiest job I’d ever had, going back to when I scooped Baskin-Robbins ice cream at the age of 14. Quick, on the other hand, was challenging. I got to have a hand in choosing the content. I got to experiment with designs that would never pass muster in the Morning News. And I got to write jokes! “The Ten” was my pride and joy for the paper’s first year or so. Give that up? Hell no.

There were only two drawbacks: 1. I was working until 10 or 11 p.m., five nights a week. 2. Rob Clark, the only editor in chief Quick ever had, and I butted heads from the word go. I can’t speak to where his side of the animosity came from. I’ll admit that mine was rooted in immature jealousy over the fact that a guy one year older than me was running this cool new publication instead of me. I’m not sure why he kept me around, to be honest, but I’m glad he did. I was having way too much fun to quit.

But most of the other founding editors, many of whom longed for a return to the day shift, went back to the Morning News one by one as their replacements were hired. Mary Dunklin gave way to Jessica Burgess, who edited the Biz page and wrote a great humor column on Page 3. Stephen Becker was replaced by Hunter Hauk, who established himself as the authority on Dallas’ rock scene and stuck with Quick until the bitter end. Dan Galvis — who marked the passing of each deadline by eating a cucumber — gave up the cubicle behind mine to talented sports editor Keith Courson, who had to stare at my spinning comic book rack every time he looked up. Lori Price was succeeded by Lesley Tellez, Quick’s first nightlife columnist.

(If I could do footnotes like a Grantland writer, this would be one. Lesley had to go out clubbing several times a week for her job, and her friends didn’t always want to accompany her. So I recruited my wife to go with her one night. Lesley took her to some douchey “ultra lounge” in the basement of what was once a downtown bank. As my wife finished descending the steep staircase, she wondered out loud, “How would someone in a wheelchair get down here?” Lesley almost did a spit take with her Cosmopolitan: “They don’t want people in wheelchairs in here.”)

For a couple of years, the only remaining members of the original team were me, Rob, and Steve “where America buys shoes” Kenny, who eventually parlayed his position as Quick’s managing editor into a gig at The New York Times. I bailed in early 2007 for two reasons: 1. I got an offer I couldn’t refuse to be an editor on the Morning News’ national/foreign desk. 2. At 32, I felt like I was getting too old to work at Quick. (I was already too bald and too fat when the thing launched.) Nonetheless, I kept writing my weekly “Fanboy” column until the fall of 2008, when I came here.

Not long after that, Quick as I knew it ceased to exist. The powers-that-be transformed it into a weekly entertainment publication, coincidentally (or not) around the same time they had to schedule daily press runs for Briefing. I still picked it up every week, especially to read Gordon Keith (who was always funnier on the radio than in print) and Ben & Skin (who were always funnier in print than on the radio). I also dug David Hopkins’ “We’ve Never Met” comic strip, plus all the contributions of Geoff Johnston, whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting.

But I missed the good old days; I guess I didn’t realize how much until Tim broke the news to me yesterday. I’ll have to round up the gang for a reunion when the final issue comes out next week. Who wants to bring the coslo?

Comments