The death of a rival: some thoughts on a magazine’s mission

In late August I received a telephone call from a business writer at one of the local papers. “I’m told you are the principal architect of the downfall of Dallas-Fort Worth Home & Garden Magazine” he said. “Would you tell me how you engineered their termination and how you feel about the news that they’re out of business?” Both his question and his premise, of course, were ridiculous. There are always dozens of explanations for the demise of a company, and it is rare for a single competitor to wield such influence. Notwithstanding the illegitimacy of the question, however, I was not entirely innocent.

Four months prior to the announcement that D-FW H&G would cease publishing, I made several decisions that would ultimately have an enormously damaging impact on D-FW H&G; these included the introduction of home/design-related editorial in every issue of D (see page 115); a promotional rate for advertising ($5 less than that of D-FW H&G) offered exclusively to home furnishing advertisers; and the announcement that D Magazine would begin to produce the KERA program guide, DIAL, and distribute it to the thousands of subscribers to KERA, elevating D’s circulation,to more than 100,000. Now D would boast 60 percent more readers than D~FW H&G had, a less expensive ad rate, and sensational new home/design editorial. Who could ask for anything more?

The effect of my announcement was to | create, as one journalist put it, a “world of hurt” for D-FW H&G. Though I never intended to put them out of business, I did act as competitors do: I set in motion changes to strengthen our product. And, given a finite universe of readers and advertisers, our strength had to accent their weakness. In Doktor Faustus, Thomas Mann writes, | “There is at bottom only one problem in the world and that is its name. How does one break through? How does one get into the open? How does one burst the cocoon and become a butterfly?” My own humbler version of that question is: how does D Magazine stand alone in Dallas, preeminent in the magazine field?

I think D has stood apart from other regional magazines for years. That belief was reaffirmed this past spring when we won seven awards from the City And Regional Magazine Association (CRMA), more than any other publication. Such honors remind me that all successful magazines have a mis- ’ sion, and the common denominator of the magazines that I read is voice. Voice in the words, and in the pictures.

For just three examples of distinctive voices telling powerful stories, see Skip Hollandsworth’s search for the new Dallas man (page 50), Sally Giddens’s exploration of the plight of battered women (page 60), and Chris Tucker’s “parting Shot” (page 208), on the unusual connection between modern science and blind faith. These are not the sort of stories you find in a home and garden magazine. D’s voice is distinguished by the power of the writing, that sense of life that makes you laugh, or cry, and feel what the writer is trying to do. We offer powerful, quality stuff that has a point of view.

The marketplace knew exactly what it was doing when it stopped paying attention to D-FW H&G, Both advertisers and readers decided they preferred D by a wide margin, and we helped them make the decision. There is a sort of Darwinian inevitability here, though I obviously think D’s product is superior at filling the needs of its readers.

While “guilt” is the wrong word for what I feel, the weight of having assisted in a rival’s premature euthanasia became ap- parent the day after the announcement. I spent a couple of sleepless nights. I wondered about my “heartless” competitive nature. You’re playing with people’s lives here, I thought, and only now are you acknowledging the human costs of that competition. I woke up in the middle of one night and somehow recalled the only time I had gone hunting: because I couldn’t differentiate a dove from all the other birds, by the time I identified a desirable target, it was out of range. In frustration I finally shot some poor bird sitting on a nearby fence. I walked up to this now obliterated little thing, looked down and thought, why’d I do this? What was the point again? After the feet it seemed very different than in the exhilaration of the hunting and stalking.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” I have come to grips with the ethics of this situation, and I’m satisfied that my ! pursuit of our principal local competitor was entirely appropriate. D-FW H&G’s decline and fall was destined when their management tired and drifted away from their mission. Editorially, a magazine cannot be all things to all people, and that’s what they tried to do. Sure, changing tastes, changing fashions, and the weakened Texas economy played a part. But an organization, if it is to survive and achieve success, must have an obdurate commitment to a set of beliefs on which are based all its policies and actions.

I’m not sorry that D-FW H&G is history, having gone the way of so many publications that deviated from their editorial mission in the face of deadly competitive pressure. But I am sorry about the people who lost their jobs, some of whom-and I’m not just saying this-are among my close friends. This time, it was more than just business.

In the months ahead, however, it will be business as usual at D: bringing you the controversial, hot topics, as we do this month with our cover story on the mysterious Walker Railey. Helping you with informed consumer choices, as we do in our semiannual auto guide. Entertaining you with a sassy, more informative new Inside Dallas that explains our city from the inside out. That’s our business, and-most of the time-that business is a pleasure.


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