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The Editors of D Magazine Reflect on Their Favorite Stories of 2018

Cats and farms and urbanism. This was Dallas in 2018, told in the pages—print and online—of D Magazine.
Elizabeth Lavin

Like last year, I asked the editors to select their favorite stories that ran in the pages of D Magazine—both online and print—in 2018. And oh man so many people loved Holland Murphy’s profile of a feline phenomenon and Kathy Wise’s incredible journey into Bonton Farms. As they should. They’re national-caliber pieces, and I’m incredibly proud to work for a place that published them. Especially with staff photographer Elizabeth Lavin’s lens lending the visuals.

We also put out a 13th issue this year on urbanism and the importance of walkability, smart development, and density have. We explored race and policing, and profiled people on either side of that coin. In our pages, we wrote about boxing gyms being pushed out by development in Oak Cliff, and we went to AT&T Stadium to root on the Mexican soccer team alongside a bunch of nationals.

These things sum up D Magazine. We’ll tackle thorny policy issues on FrontBurner, but people—and their cats—matter, and their stories matter. I think the commentary you find below will show you that we had a great year in terms of journalism, but it will mostly illuminate how dynamic and interesting our community is. We couldn’t tell these stories without you. Here’s to 2019.

Tim Rogers, editor of D Magazine 

Pick my favorite story? No, no, no. I love all the stories. They are all funny and smart and informative and well-written. They are all equal in my eyes. But some are more equal than others, and Matt has been hounding me on my days off to send in my copy for this post, and I want to go back to combing my street for the $400 my neighbor lost. So let’s take this chronologically.

Zac Crain’s ditty on the share-bike apocalypse is the sort of whimsical, unexpected, and just a tiny bit challenging commentary on current events that D Magazine does unlike any print outlet in town. Maybe in the entire Southwest. Prove me wrong.

Kathy Wise’s story about Daron Babcock won a national award, and it was deserved. Others had written before about Babcock’s Bonton Farms. Somehow they all missed what Kathy found and then so effortlessly (it seems) revealed.

Mike Mooney’s story about the death of Jonathan Crews succeeds on two levels. It’s a gripping procedural with a soured relationship at its center. And it also raises a larger point about whether law enforcement is doing all that it should in the pursuit of justice.

Jamie Thompson’s profile of Police Chief U. Reneé Hall was a banger. It got too close to Hall for her own comfort. The chief tried to say Thompson misquoted her, and our staff photographer tricked her into posing for what I think was one of the defining photographs published in Dallas this year (taken by our staff photographer, Elizabeth Lavin). Here we published the recording of Hall that proved Jamie quoted her faithfully.

Roberto José Andrade Franco’s story is the only one we published this year about soccer that got me choked up. Roberto is new to D Magazine, and I really look forward to seeing his work in our pages more in the future.

Holland Murphy’s story about the chimera cat made me flat out cry. When I hired Holland, I knew she smart and hard-working and turned in clean copy. I had no idea she was capable of this. Kathy is going to tell you how reluctant I was to let Holland do the story. It’s true. Holland this year became one of the few writers I trust to follow their gut on stories that I just don’t get.

Eve Hill-Agnus’ essay about her experience eating in Dallas’ steakhouses made national waves, and for good reason. It shows her deft touch, and it started an important conversation.

Peter Simek’s profile of Christopher Daniels was such a fraught assignment. I don’t want to say why, because it would spoil part of the story for you if you haven’t already read it. I’ll just say this: it entails a national story in our own backyard about race and policing. Peter is one of the few I’d trust with a complicated story like this one, and he pulled it off beautifully.

Tom Stephenson’s investigation into a 40-year-old unsolved mass killing is unlike anything we’ve ever published, mainly because Tom started his investigation 40 years ago. And the way he orchestrated the ending was a feat that only Tom could execute.

Finally, Zac’s profile of the Rev. Dr. Michael Waters is a stylistic masterstroke. Zac has been on staff for a decade. In terms of pure writing, I think this is the best thing he’s done. It also happens to be an important story about a man who is helping to shape Dallas’ future.

Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall. Photo by Elizabeth Lavin, who did not trick the chief into posing like this.

Kathy Wise, executive editor of D Magazine

As I recall, this is how Holland Murphy’s incredibly quirky and heartfelt feature, “The Feline Phenomenon Freak,” came about. 

Holland: “I want to do a story about a cat.”

Tim: “No.”

Holland: “There’s this calico Maine coon named Dawntreader Texas Calboy in Waxahachie—”

 Tim: “No. Waxahachie is too far from Dallas.”

Holland: “But the cat has won all these cat shows—”

 Tim: “No.”

Holland: “And there’s a big controversy because it’s a boy cat with girl colors—”

Tim: “No.” 

Holland: “And the owner, Mistelle Stevenson, claims he’s being discriminated against because of a genetic anomaly—”

Tim: “No.”

Holland: “And when she told me that the reason it all bothers her so much is because it reminds her of how people treat her autistic son, I started crying because I have a sister with special needs and I know what it is like to spend a lifetime advocating for someone who shouldn’t need any sort of explanation—” 

Tim: [long silent pause]

Tim: “Well, maybe.” 

Holland: “So, I’m writing it.”

Tim: “OK.”

Me: “This is going to be awesome.” 

And it was. In a way that only a story by S. Holland Murphy can be. Plus, there’s that photo Elizabeth Lavin took of Mistelle at home, surrounded by her Maine coons. I’ll never look at calicos the same way again.

Zac Crain, senior editor at D Magazine

Probably my favorite story this year was Holland’s piece about the magic cat, the chimera, and the controversy that surrounded him in the cat show world. It was unexpected, and she saw it from the very beginning, and sold us all on it. Beyond the story of the cat and his owner, it got into a world that most of us here aren’t familiar with and probably a lot of our readers aren’t familiar with, and she told the whole thing wonderfully. It was funny or maybe quirky at the beginning and ended with way more emotion than I would have imagined. Holland had a lot of good pieces this year — a lot of what I say about the the cat story applies to her profile of Katie Rogers and her mermaid-hair empire — but this was my favorite.

Matt Goodman, online editorial director of D Magazine

You can’t exactly call D’s editorial team a skeleton staff, but it’s close. Think about those skeletons in biology class, the ones where the organs are left in. That’s about like us. Which means we have to be nimble and scrappy and creative when we’re thinking about our coverage, because we’re competing for eyeballs with much larger shops. So my favorite stories this year involved a little bit of breaking news, but mostly they are stories that helped flesh out the larger story behind the news. Like Peter Simek taking a trip to Seattle before we knew whether Amazon would spurn us or not, and then turning a thoroughly reported, vividly written report about why we shouldn’t fret that Amazon hadn’t picked us. Nobody else went to Seattle to write that story.

Shawn Shinneman made national news after sending out a flurry of open records requests to area agencies. One of those was DFW Airport, which teamed with its surrounding cities to offer what would’ve been the largest incentive offer in American history. I believe we’ve had clear-eyed, thorough reporting about topics like Fair Park’s privatization and the forthcoming park(s) between the Trinity River levees. Things were lighter too: I love that Catherine Downes agreed to spend a night in the Deep Ellum Hostel and write about it. Nobody else did that. Like Holland, I loved Caitlin Clark’s February rundown of the love stories of boutique owners. Jamie Thompson’s profile of new police chief U. Reneé Hall was exactly the type of piece that makes magazines great: it was controversial, entertaining, and illuminating, wrapped up in some amazing photography by Elizabeth Lavin. Also, Tom Stephenson basically solved a murder.

This year was fun. I can’t wait to see what we tackle in 2019.

Peter Simek, arts editor at D Magazine

My favorite thing we published this year was Jose Ralat’s September cover story: Taco City, USA. If the piece had only been an in-depth, authoritative exploration of this city’s exciting taco scene (by one of the state’s strongest food writers), it would have been one of the best and most useful reads of the year. But Taco City did so much more than that. The piece shed light on dozens of under-the-radar restaurants in parts of the city that are often overlooked in local food coverage.

It staked a bold—and deserving—claim to Dallas’ rightful place in Texas’ taco conversation. And it prompted some playful, and occasionally contentious, inter-city banter around that claim, before taking on new life as a broader, statewide conversation about tacos, Texas food, political and cultural demographics, and how changes in Dallas and Texas have led to an evolving sense of urban culture and identity. Too bad San Antonio’s mayor never took us up on the challenge to take part in a Dallas taco tour. His loss.

S. Holland Murphy, associate editor, D Magazine

I still get misty-eyed just thinking about Kathy Wise’s story on Bonton Farms and I’m waiting for Disney to come along and option it for the feel-good movie of the year. Kathy also wrote a post about cat poop that makes me cry but in a totally different way. Caitlin Clark did a thing on boutique owner’s love stories that is my kind of magazine candy. I don’t think my investigation into this highway urinal got the attention it deserved. Elizabeth Lavin gets tons of credit for her photography, and she does deserve that—the portrait heard ‘round the city of police chief Reneé Hall and the one of Katie Rogers as a floating mermaid were just so great. Finally, the Twitter reaction to Catherine Downes’ story on K-pop band BTS being responsible for a Dallas artist’s first-ever sale was pretty awesome. 

By hook or crook: Bonton Farms backs up to the Texas Buckeye Trail and the Trinity River floodway, where Daron Babcock sometimes takes his goats to graze. The Rochester Park levee wasn’t built until the 1990s; prior to that, the whole neighborhood was prone to flooding.

Eve Hill-Agnus, dining critic at D Magazine

I was moved by Kathy Wise’s story about Bonton Farms. Elizabeth Lavin’s extraordinary portraits made this piece both hard-hitting and lyrical. 

Jamie Thompson’s profile of new police chief Renee Hall is a story about sex and gender bias and is evidence of the kind of sharp and thoroughly reported writing that draws you in. Again, great photos by Elizabeth Lavin.

Catherine Downes, online dining editor at D Magazine

I enjoyed many stories in 2018. If I could list them in order from awesome to more-awesomer, I would. But it’s the end of the year, and I have content to schedule before our offices close for the holidays. And honestly, the anxiety of accidentally leaving something out, that I read in March or something, which delivered so much joy at the time but has now been stuffed into the part of my brain that can’t offhandedly recall that cheerful experience, is crippling. So, instead of making a list, and instead of choosing my ultimate favorite (because I don’t have one), I’m selecting the last story that made me semi-ugly cry at my desk: Kathy Wise’s online update to her July 2018 editor’s note. If you’ve ever loved an animal unconditionally, you will prob cry, too. So maybe read this in a private place, where you have access to a napkin or a clean sleeve to wipe your face on.

Caitlin Clark, online managing editor at D Magazine Dot Com

Working her tail off: “I think it, I execute it,” Katie says. For her line of lashes, she googled how to make them, found a manufacturer, and designed the boxes.

My two favorite stories I read anywhere this year were both profiles on women. The first was that New York Times piece on Gwyneth, and the second was Holland’s equally wonderful story on Katie Rogers. I mention the NYT piece because I think both writers pulled off the trick to any good profile: narrate an intimate, first-hand glimpse into a person’s life, but never insert yourself so much that the reader doesn’t get to have their own experience and opinions. The Gwyneth Paltrow kitchen scene, where Chris Martin and Apple casually float in and out while she steams clams for the writer, is as vivid and memorable as Katie offering Holland a Cotton Candy Champagne (an over-the-top cocktail complete with gummy bears and edible stars) while Bachelor in Paradise blares in the background of her Sealon. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about either all year. I may never be able to.

Shawn Shinneman, online managing editor at D Magazine Dot Com 

Before I joined the company, I had dreams of writing about what could drive a guy like Bonton Farms founder Daron Babcock to abruptly quit his cushy corporate gig and move into the suffering Bonton neighborhood with, as Kathy Wise writes, “the conviction of a calling but without a plan.” But right as these idiots hired me, back at the beginning of the year, Kathy cracked Babcock open like an urban farm egg. The lens we use to view the world is everything, and Babcock has seen it from the most extreme ends of the spectrum. Kathy was the perfect person to write it. Her personal touches illuminate what we’re to take from his story.

Jessica Otte, executive editor of D Home and D Weddings

I may be biased (okay, I am *definitely* biased) being that the November/December edition of D Home was my first to work on since returning to the D fam several months ago. But I’m so proud of the Holiday Entertaining Survival Guide that appeared in that issue. The concept, reporting, writing, and art was a true team effort, and the resulting feature is packed with useful tips, advice, and recipes from local experts (plus the sweetest childhood holiday photos of Dallas notables—I see you, pre-teen Ron Corning!). We also managed to convince the fabulous Elizabeth Chambers Hammer to squeeze us into her insanely packed travel schedule and bring us scores of Bird Bakery desserts for the photo shoot that produced one of my favorite covers we’ve ever done.

Christine Perez, editor of D CEO

D CEO published a number of outstanding stories in 2018, from Shawn Shinneman’s piece on the father of aerobics (Americans Aren’t Listening to Ken Cooper) and Brandon Call’s in-depth report on the new oil-and-gas boom (Eureka! How the Permian Basin Has Energized Dallas-Fort Worth’s Energy Industry) to Jeremiah Jensen’s story on Monte Anderson’s quest to bring back “the missing middle” and the terrific work Will Maddox does every day at D CEO Healthcare. But what stands out most in my mind is D Magazine’s special publication, Dallas and The New Urbanism. I especially loved Peter Simek’s piece on how great cities are made and The Walkability Premium by Christopher B. Leinberger and Tracy Loh. As someone who has spent nearly two decades reporting on North Texas real estate and who now lives downtown (without a car), it has been amazing to see the evolution of Dallas, the development of sub-urban markets, and the rebirth of the city’s urban core. D’s comprehensive urbanism report provides a road map for building an even better future. A cover-to-cover read is a must for those who live in and care about our city and region.

Natalie Gempel, online arts editor, D Magazine Dot Com

There were so many good stories in D this year, so it’s hard to choose, but, for me, one of the most memorable was Catherine Downes’ story “Playboy Bunnies Tell the Best Tales.” It’s a thoughtful portrait of the women, and a window into one of Dallas’ most glamorous and fascinating eras. I’m rooting for a 2019 Playboy Dallas pop-up.

Sarah Bennett, managing editor of D Home and D Weddings

My fave thing we did this year was the D Weddings A-Z Etiquette Guide, but that was split up into a bunch of individual blog posts, and I don’t believe they were “linked” to each other, so to speak, so you wouldn’t even know they were technically part a series. SO, that said:

 My favorite piece we produced this year for D Home was our minimalist package, wherein five experts shared with us how to minimal-ize your lifestyle—from closet and beauty products to toys and kitchen utensils (Jan/Feb 2018). Especially with a new year on the horizon, I’m constantly thinking about how to clean out and organize my closet and bathroom cabinet, but it always seems like a daunting task. To see how these experts do it makes it feel more manageable and inspires me to get it done and start fresh.

Side note: I also loved our “Designers at Home” series, which ran in Sept/Oct, but was posted as five individual blog posts, so (like the weddings A-Z) I don’t think it really translates to this project. (YES OKAY I WROTE THREE OF THEM BUT THE OTHER TWO WERE ACTUALLY MY FAVES WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT ME?)