Sunday, June 16, 2024 Jun 16, 2024
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When Did the Morning News Give Up on Good Writing?

Is that an insolent question? I apologize.

I’ve recently put this challenge to several people I respect: give me a roster of bylines in the Dallas Morning News that you’ll read no matter the topic, just because the writer does great work and reading that work is more times than not worth your time. I’ve come to expect a pause, as the person struggles with the challenge. I’ll interject: “I’ve got my roster. There’s one byline on it. Mark Lamster’s.”

Read this story he published online today, about why Dallas ought to be a more boring city. If you’re too busy to read it right now, I’ll give you a graph, his third in the piece:

I won’t hold it against you if you find the academic discourse on boredom boring, but boredom itself, broadly construed, does have its virtues. In this vein, think of the writing of W.G. Sebald. In his idiosyncratic works — Austerlitz, Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants — single sentences can roll on for pages at a time, one digression folding into another, then only to double-back on themselves. Is Sebald boring? Some think so, and I wouldn’t argue. But it is in his measured, antique form that Sebald achieves a kind of intoxicating sublime.

The rhythm, the word choice, the fortitude shown by taking a paragraph to 93 words in length in a paper where most putter out after 20. Mark Lamster is the only person who is actually writing for the Morning News. Why is this?

Traditionally columnists have been the folks who get to call their own plays at the line of scrimmage, throw their words around with a bit more creativity. The News has but one non-sports columnist now, Sharon Grigsby. Grigsby’s story today about the Trinity Forest deserves your time. It was well-reported and showed some flourishes. But Grigsby is a runner in real life, and her copy generally follows. It’s efficient and to the point. It gets you to the finish line. Where are the writers, the stylists whose voices become a welcome weekly distraction or a spear prodding you out of complacency?

Robert Wilonsky used to be a columnist. He suffered from not having an editor and often turned to stylistic devices and tropes that were too easy for him to crank out. But you knew a Robert story when you read it. He could — and can — write, as he showed when he recently came out of retirement to chronicle David Kunkle’s malady. Where’s the next Robert Wilonsky?

Gordon Keith wrote a column as a freelancer for a time (thanks to Grigsby). No doubt he can type. Especially for a guy better known as the city’s impersonator of Jerry Jones. But Gordon’s gone from print.

Rod Dreher is crazy, but that guy can write. He’s in Louisiana now, doing something that involves God and a subscription newsletter.

Avi Selk. Remember that byline? One of the best young writers recently to come through the News. I suppose they can’t be blamed for losing him to the Washington Post.

What to make of a paper with just one writer? Someone I begrudgingly respect told me, when I brought up this notion to him, that actual writing isn’t part of the News’ business plan. I shouldn’t expect it. Our paper doesn’t operate like the Washington Post. “The DMN’s most pressing concern is keeping the foundation level,” this bald, short man told me. “When you’re worried about your foundation, you don’t go looking to put in a pool.”

I suppose I’m young and naive (ahem). I’d like to think the News could keep the plaster from cracking and go for a swim every so often. I should probably keep my head down and stop criticizing the folks across town. We’re all in a rough spot right now. It’s not polite.

Anyway, did you read Mike Wilson’s story in the New York Times the other day? He was the editor of the News for nearly six years. Turns out, the dude can really write. Who knew?