THE DALLAS REPORTER ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE HAD caught me between meetings at my office in New York. She started with a blanket statement. “The consensus among the people I’ve talked to around the country is that city magazines are dead.”
My response was to chuckle. I hadn’t been involved in D Magazine for years, and never expected to be involved in a city magazine again, but that didn’t mean I had left the planet,
“Have you seen New York lately,” I asked. “Or the Washingtonian, or Philadelphia, or Boston, or Las Angeles, or San Diego?”
“Well, okay, in those specific places.” she said. “But I’m talking in general.”
“How do you talk about a city magazine ’in general’?” I asked.
“Well, then, take Dallas as a specific.”
“Perfect,” I replied. “Let’s cake Dallas. Help me with a little exercise. Suppose a Dallas city magazine published a cover story on ’Why Dallas Reporters Never Break Into the Big Time.’ Would you buy it?”
“Sure. But that’s a made-up story.”
“Right, but it’s a good story and it should be published. I’ve only had two minutes to get you to buy a city magazine. Seems to me that if the right people had a little longer-say a day or two-they could come up with stories that would get you to buy another issue, then another, and then another. Pretty soon you’d take out a subscription, and right after that you wouldn’t be doing this story, you’d be applying for a job.”
To the reporter’s credit, she laughed. But my little exercise never made it into print. After all, everyone knows city magazines are dead.
A fellow named Glenn Solomon didn’t get the word. Fresh from New Orleans, he moved to Dallas to make his mark and soon sensed something missing. Within a few months he had purchased the D logo, hired a staff, and relaunched the magazine. Solomon would never claim to be a publishing guru, but in true Dallas fashion he saw an opening where nobody else did and stepped in to fill it. Like any startup in any business, he had his ups and downs, but the result is the magazine you hold in your hands.
1 know about startups. With a tenacious group of young editors and investors, I founded the original D Magazine 21 years ago and became intimately familiar with ups and downs. But the original D- like the present one-filled a need, and before long it gained an upward momentum that kept it soaring for nearly two decades.
The same principles that made D a success then are our bedrock principles now. Dallas has changed, the ownership has changed, and I have changed. But the principles haven’t changed. First, our allegiance is to our readers, and to nobody else. Second, we’re not a magazine for everyone, and don’t intend to try to be. The mass market belongs to the Morning News (a first-class newspaper, by the way) and the broadcast media, and they can have it. Third, this is an editors’ magazine, driven by our passions, informed by our interests, and presented from our perspective. We take responsibility for every word printed in it, because we agree with every word printed in it. Fourth, our commitment is to make this city and this region a better place to live and work. I’m a fifth generation Texan myself; I grew up here. Our roots are deep, our feelings are strong, and we have a high standard to which we believe this city should aspire.
During my first tenure in the publisher’s chair, a fledgling MBA candidate came by to interview me for his thesis on the media. He asked me how I judged the success of any particular issue of the magazine. Was it advertising sales, or newsstand sales, or new subscription orders? I answered none of the above.
The truth of the matter is, I told him, an issue of D Magazine is a success if the half of my friends who are speaking to me stop-and the half who weren’t speaking to me start. That’s about as clear a measurement as I’ve been able to come up with, so I think we’ll stick with it.
In a world of daily media bombardment, why do you and I still turn to magazines anyway? I think because the best of them become like old friends. We come to know their quirks, their passions, the little things that will set them off on an occasional tangent, the values they hold. Great magazines have personalities, and like old friends the more we come to know them the more we come to trust them.
I have no doubt this magazine will earn your friendship. The key word is “earn. ” We don’t assume it; we intend to work for it.
The journalistic canons require me to issue a caveat about this month’s story, “Does Ray Hunt Own City Hall?” For those of you who don’t know it, Ray Hunt was the major backer of the original D, and to my mind he’s one of the most thoughtful, honorable, and decent men in this or any other city. Former mayor Steve Bartlett has been my close friend since we were both 14 years old. Reading through the arena conspiracy accounts concocted by Laura Miller of the Observer, I didn’t recognize either man. And what’s more, I had not seen anything in the local press that came to their defense. That made me angry. Good men ought to fight back against such slurs, but often don’t know how. I hope Steve’s article will give others heart that onesided slants are no longer the rule in this town.
But my caveat needs to go even further. Laura Miller herself is a former columnist and reporter for D who has done heroic work in these pages. I consider her also to be a friend. 1 respect her reporting-and sometimes even believe it. In fact, if Laura were to call tomorrow and even hint she’s available, I’d hire her on the spot. It would be my contribution to getting her what every great reporter needs: an editor.
So this month nobody needs any help in figuring out which friends will be speaking to me and which friends won’t. Next month I suspect it will be an entirely different set.
And that’s just the way it ought to be.