Monday, August 8, 2022 Aug 8, 2022
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What should a city magazine be?
By Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons |

Every now and then it would be enlightening to stand on a busy street corner and thrust our latest edition on an unsuspecting sampling of informed, involved citizens. “How are we doing?” Or-to be really bold, “Is D what a city magazine should be?” Do you, Mr. Average Reader, find our articles timely, provocative, uplifting, informative, relevant? Or, Ms. Consumer, are we dull, repetitively upscale, unfair? Do we capture the essence of Dallas, from its undergirth to its overachievements? Is it our role to prod, probe and pan? Or to praise, parlay and promote? Believe me, these are questions we grapple with daily.

The city magazine, as a genre, has flourished over the past decade. Today, most large-and medium-sized U.S. cities can boast at least one glossy publication dedicated to urban narcissism. The best among them present a lively (a word favored by magazine editors) balance between tools for living and food for thought. Others do little more than chronicle the ins and outs of the elite, offering helpful hints on managing that first bite of goat cheese along the way. I’m not poking fun. We do some of that. But there has to be more. More about people who don’t read city magazines. People whose plights and problems cry for exposure. People like the first subject of John Bloom’s new Tales of the City column, Judy Neal, whose pathos is an offshoot of an often unforgiving free-enterprise economy (page 36).

After three months of sitting on the other side of the editor’s desk, I’m here to tell you that channeling the hydra-headed concerns of this city into a balanced editorial effort every month is harder than it looks. I thought that by applying an orderly process to the planning-taking, if you will, something from columns A, B, C and D-we would end up with an effortless, intriguing mix each month. One part grit, one part wit, two parts fluff, one part community concern, two parts makin’ it. Stir lightly so as not to crush the integrity of any ingredient. But batter should be well-blended.

The comforting concept of that formula died with this issue.

Our October issue plan included in the beginning a cover story on psychics. That one we kept. October, with its first hints of fall and the compelling chill of Halloween, howled for mysticism. And though we ran afoul when our freelance skeptic Mark Donald became so unnerved by the revelations offered unto him that he began carrying a rock he claims is a fragment of energy from the Pyramids, his efforts are, nonetheless, chronicled beginning on page 128. (Psst . . .we added some extra skepticism of our own with a sidebar on police efforts to crack down on charlatans.)

So far, so good. But then I sat down to lunch with two of the brightest, most politically savvy women in the Dallas business community. One leaned across the table and revealed that she had recently been privy to the confidences of a Washington, D.C., microbiologist who was studying the virus that causes AIDS. “Do you realize,” she whispered, “that the average gay has over 500 sexual partners a year?” That struck me as ambitious. I wondered how many other myths and misconceptions about homosexuality and AIDS plague our community. Exit fall guide to lawn care. Enter a city confronted by the fears and terrors of AIDS (page 136).

Then, as I was musing over our guide to French cognacs, the phone rang. It was Carlton Stowers, a local author working on a book about the Lake Waco murders. Had I happened to catch any of Channel 8’s investigative series on the Waco district attorney? Well, yes, I’d seen a couple of reports on Vic Feazell’s alleged failure to adequately prosecute DWIs. Did I think it was odd that Channel 8 would devote-count ’em-10 air segments to the ineptitude of a Waco public official? Come to think of it, that is a little strange. Was I aware of Vic Feazell’s role in the effort to discredit the mass confessions of killer Henry Lee Lucas?

Whoa. Now things were getting complicated. The day before, I had gotten a call from writer Nan Cuba, who has worked for over a year with Dr. Joel Norris, a psychologist, in an effort to shore up evidence that Henry Lee Lucas fits the psychological profile of a serial killer. Dallas Times Herald reporter Hugh Aynesworth, whose fascination with the macabre has, in the past, led him to focus on President Kennedy’s assassination and mass-murderer Ted Bundy, offered to rebut with solid evidence to the contrary (page 146). And now Stowers would postulate that Feazell might be the target of enemies borne of the Lucas fray, with Channel 8 playing a willing-if unwitting-role.

About this time Delta Flight 191 went down at D/FW-an event of cataclysmic consequence to the city and a daunting challenge to the daily media, but one that engenders something akin to helplessness in a monthly publication with our early deadlines. And yet we hated to go to press silent on such a massive tragedy. Though we had our one-part media coverage with the story on Channel 8-and August’s critique of Channel 4 News was still drawing hot response-we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see how our dailies and broadcasters fared in their efforts to cover the biggest story to hit Dallas in some time. Mike Shropshire, who has written for them all, evaluates the media coverage on page 81.

Somewhat battered, I retreated to the relative tranquility of local architectural critic David Dillon’s sensitive essay on Fair Park, an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Dallas Architecture, 1936-1986. When you start looking to the controversial Dillon for safe journalism, you’re looking for trouble. But who can deny that Fair Park is a treasured vestige of a city’s struggle to shed its adolescence? I breathed a sigh of relief.

I found further security in my decision to put D’s investigative reporter Eric Miller in charge of juicing up our up-front section, Inside Dallas/Fort Worth. But wait. Security in Eric Miller, whose desk is stacked high with subpoenas and court pleadings?

Surely you see how a guide to local pianorecitals and where to go fly-fishing mightmean fewer editorial headaches. Pleaseadvise.