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?

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Comments

  • Dennis Hall

    You deserve all the credit, Dan. I spent a week (or two?) on that project, whereas you spent years. It sure was fun, though.

    Quick was a valuable experiment in the DMN’s efforts to reach young readers. I’m glad I had a tiny part in it.

  • very nice Dan. Thanks.

  • Darren

    Great post, Dan!

  • Ryan Jones’ Moustache

    Clap, clap, clap.

  • I second all of the complimentary things above, especially Ryan Jones’ Moustache. Thank you, Dan.

  • Daniel

    +1

  • Jessica Burgess Good

    I could use a humor column these days — life is much funnier in my 30s than 20s. Less whistling past the graveyard.

    I didn’t realize how much that little paper meant to me until yesterday, either. Great post, Dan. We should all get together for a nonalcoholic cocktail then go our separate ways at 6 p.m. to put our kids to bed.

  • Well done, Mr. Koller.

  • Steve Kenny

    It was the perfect name, Dan. Great post. I share your sentiment about the good old days. We had some great times in the basement and in that little room. You don’t give yourself enough credit about The Ten, which was conceived as a wrap-up of the 10 most interesting news stories and which you turned into some much better. …

  • Dennis Hall

    nonalcoholic cocktail. love the asterisks.

  • me

    I still miss the Met !!!

  • Good work, Dan. And even gives me bit ideas. Dress as Lady Gaga in a wheelchair and attempt to get in an ultra lounge.

  • Ryan Jones’ Moustache

    The Ten! I’d forgotten about that! Agreed, Steve. That feature was unfailingly good.

  • Gretchen

    Great story, Dan. I was a member of the secret group and remember your presentation of “Quick” — it was the best of the bunch. You guys did a great job bringing it to life. I also remember the fancy Voss water they brought us to drink and thinking “Am I the only person in this room who can only afford tap water?” If a 20-something is going to spend $3.50 on a drink, it’s not going to be water.

  • Amy S

    Thank you for this wonderful story.

  • Chris Wilkins

    Dan: I’m with you, thats for the historical look back. I loved that little paper when it was a daily, it was so fresh and fun to read. Quick was the first thing I read every morning as I took the DART downtown to work at the DMN. Most of my fellow riders on the train did the same. You would constantly hear laughter as they read the latest Gordon Keith column or some other outrageous story that you all had the sense of humor to publish. RIP Quick, you always made our day a little happier…….

  • Dan, you nailed it. I think for all of us on that initial start-up team, being given the opportunity to start a brand-new publication and launch it in that amount of time was a career highlight. The best part was never being told we couldn’t do something because “it’s always been done this way.” It was a chance to create something that had never been done, and for it to have survived this long in this media environment is something to be proud of. Let me know where the reunion is and I’ll set up a game of baked potato bowling.

  • Jennifer McInnis

    Great post, Dan! I never thought I would say that I miss our sad little Quick fantasy football league. I wish I could join you guys in Dallas for the final issue. Instead, I will toast from my desk as I look up at my trademark AJ Barnes farewell cover.

  • tom

    Revisionist history. Quick was launched for one reason, to kill AM Journal Express and after accomlishing that – to attempt to kill Dallas Observer. Belo is good at one thing, destroying small competitors. Not saying that is a bad thing in our capitalistic world, let’s just drop the “attempt to attract younger readers” bs…………..

  • Thank you so much for writing this, Dan. I didn’t know the history. It’s a bittersweet read for sure.

  • Chuck Stewart

    Brought a tear to my eye Dan. It was the most fun I ever had in the newspaper business. It was like working on your high school paper, except with way more talented people and a better budget. Long live Quick.

  • Bruce

    Condolences to the latest victims of print’s ongoing struggle. I was at the AMJE when it went down; we all felt that Quick was going to have a short life (though not as short as ours proved to be). Cynically, we felt that once the AMJE was no longer around, the big boys would have no use for Quick and didn’t really believe in it. We felt some paranoia about Belo’s methods with us.

    I’m glad Quick held on as long as it did and still believe that the format is capable of great success, but seems more suited for the captive audiences of public transit-reliant cities.

  • Darren

    @tom,

    Bingo. There’s little that scuttles out of the Belo mothership that doesn’t amount to the skin of Vincent D’Onofrio stretched over a giant roach from outer space.

  • Quick certainly showed creativity and talent in trying to ride through era of media changes…wish/hope a locally oriented, original content, entertainment/news publication/site makes it but that will be difficult without “broadening” advertising base to a lot of “cash-based” businesses….

  • MikeP

    Very nicely done. I always used to look through the glass and jealously wonder how you were getting away with being so cheeky in Fortress Belo. I still wonder why giving you something useful as you get on the train wasn’t a good business model, but tossing something you probably don’t want on your lawn is a great idea.

  • Jon Ehret

    Reading Dan’s piece, and then the commenters’ names, is like watching a 1930’s newsreel of Civil War veterans reuniting on Memorial Day to tell tall tales of what it was like to fight for your lives when you were just a kid, and fondly remember the names of their fallen comrades. Of course, you never heard them talk about the commanders they hated…

  • Laura Gordon

    This team took the DMN where it did not even know it had the capacity to go!
    I say we have a reunion, celebrate Rob Clark’s 30th birthday again and toast the great ride!

  • Golly gee, we’ve seen all this deserved praise of the ultra high-concept Quick and it is easy to see that two stellar gents have been neglected. People really ought to give a Tip of the ol’ Hat, the one now used to collect spare change, to The Heiring Cousins whose cunning ploy suggested to young people that this idea was conceived in purity and such a dead-solid certain success that they could count on the storied corporation for a career. Whee, doggies, the promise of things to come! Any other line of work, mortgage banking for example, and fudging for the sake of expediency is a felony — or at least a moral shortcoming. Makes me want to throw a hissy fit.

  • Alison Draper

    Beautiful eulogy Dan! Hearts and souls were poured into Quick and the ride was great! Laura, please let me know how I can assist with the celebration.

  • Augustus Mulliner

    Every time I walked past that glass cage, it seemed that the inmates were having way too much fun. Now I understand: They were putting something in the coslo.

  • How about a Quick reunion in Mexico City? I can promise everyone some kick-ass mezcal. (Although no wheelchair access — I don’t think those laws exist here yet.)

    I wasn’t a part of the original founding team, but I felt that energy often. Thanks for the tribute, Dan. I was sad yesterday too.

  • Nicely done, Dan.

  • Stuart Wilk

    Dan et al — Thanks for posting this. What you and the Gen X team produced in five days was extraordinary: Four complete prototypes, one of which was Quick. (Does anyone remember what the others were called?)
    I think the only developmental expenses were for pizza and Smart water. Turned out to be one of best investments we made in those days.

  • Read Dan’s lead again: hmmm, can’t remember who exactly came ip with the name Quick, then admits he’s a habitual, unabashed liar where it’s concerned, but then wants you to “honestly” believe all of his following pulp is the immutable, elephant’s-memory truth about the little publication that couldn’t. (“honestly” is code for prevarication ahead.) Like any crime novel, the names were changed to protect the brilliant. Dan was not a part of the black-ops subterranean homesick news team that delivered the Quick prototype from scratch, save for his alleged pedestrian title. Rob was the only one from your gen-soaked memories among “the best and brightest,” and that was a late, gratuitous addition. Too much was at stake to use minor-leaguers for the heavy lifting at that time. Only 3 on that list of prototype creators were actual “black ops” (it was the stealth login we used down in the DMN bowels, out if reach if Dan’s delusions). Sorry, dude, you were an X who was not a factor. I created and gave you The 10, all you had to do like all generic army ants was follow the marching orders. Some of you who don’t suffer from newsheimers should be embarrassed for endorsing the bald-headed lie that Dan’s been telling himself for so long that he likely believes it all. To my fellow gifted bona fides, who weren’t ever riding herd (we didn’t get paid in those days to baby sit) over nascent, unproved egos, but marching confidently, naturally and so cooly to the Belo beat of a different drum in November 2003, I salute you still and always. Among the best newspaper stories never fully told. And it remains so, thankfully — for now.

  • winston churchill

    Like they say, “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” As I recall, you were a very reluctant addition to the team and convinced that Quick was pure folly — until it’s initial success. Then you tried to sop up much credit as you could. The fact is, Dan was part of a secret group that met years before the black ops group and discussed a publication like Quick. And let’s be totally honest here — Quick was predated by publications like RedEye, so it was hardly an original concept. And don’t fool yourself — you weren’t down there in the War room because you were one of the best and the brightest; you were simply available.

  • TMT

    Heart and soul are what the editorial team of four as well as the Quick dedicated sales side brought to the game each week when I had the pleasure of working with them. I’ll be snagging a copy for sure this week (as always)…but this one shall be saved for sure.

  • John Kelly Is Delusional

    I’m sorry to see that Jordanofheadlines’ mental deterioration continues untreated. Seek professional help, Jelly Honk.

  • Bowler X

    Hey, to the above, that’s out of bounds. You guys should have to ID yourselves if you attack a person’s sanity. A Prozac Nation, remember? Friend or foe, you can’t deny the man’s talent and contributions to the DMN. I’m sure he wasn’t merely “available”; they used him all over the place, I recall. Toxic stuff, the above; what’s lingering in you?

  • Winston Churchill

    Toxic? Jordanofheadlines called Dan a liar, a minor-leaguer, a non-factor, unproved, egotistic and an ant. What’s lingering in him?