The Magazine That Almost Wasn’t
The seminal moment in this magazine’s creation occurred because my friend Steve Bartlett was aggravated with me. The year was 1973, and 69 people had politely declined the opportunity to invest in my idea for a new magazine for Dallas. The little cash I had, lent to me by family and friends when I dropped out of graduate school to pursue my dream, was running out. Sitting in Bartlett’s office, I was about to admit defeat. Characteristically, for those who knew him later as a congressman and as mayor, Bartlett was not sympathetic. Surely I had not talked to everybody. How about Ray Hunt, for example? Interpreting the blank look on my face (correctly) to mean I hadn’t pitched the best-known up-and-comer in the city, Bartlett picked up the phone, dialed the number, and handed the receiver to me.
I got the appointment. Hunt listened attentively, asked a few pertinent questions, then told me I was right on target. Nobody had ever said that to me before. Unfortunately, he added, he was too involved in a major project. He didn’t have time to even think about it. I slumped in my chair. Also, he couldn’t see that I had ever actually run a magazine before. I slumped further in my chair. But, he mused, it was a great idea. I perked up. Maybe, he continued, if I were willing to take several months to learn more about magazine operations, he might be able to clear his desk and give this his attention. By the time he finished his sentence, I was sitting up, and had brushed my hair, straightened my tie, and was wondering if I should brush my teeth.
So D Magazine was born. Scores of people in the magazine industry lent their time and expertise to honing the concept into a product. Other young businesspeople such as Carl Sewell and Johnny Johnson joined in its financing. Dozens of young writers, designers, and marketing people took the risk of their fledgling careers and joined it. Stanley Marcus took an even greater risk by endorsing the magazine in a letter to his customers, which brought in 20,000 subscribers before a copy had been printed. In October 1974, the first issue hit the newsstands. (Yes, we’re a bit late to our own party with this anniversary issue.)
The magazine was a sensation. That’s because it held firmly to two principles that guide us to this day. First, this magazine is not for everyone, nor does it pretend to be. Magazine readers aren’t a mass audience to start with. The median income of our subscribers, for example, is $328,000. But the people who read this magazine share more than high incomes. They are passionately interested in this city. The subscriber in Lakewood will probably never meet the newsstand buyer in Plano. The only connection they’ll ever have is their passion for this city. Our allegiance is to them, and to them alone. Our commitment is to make this city and this region a better place for them to live. That means squawking—loudly—about the things we don’t like, and supporting—robustly—the things we do like.
The second premise that guides us is our approach to journalism. Much of journalism is pure posturing. The journalist pretends to be an outsider looking in, to be the objective observer. Often it’s true, which is why so much of what you read is rubbish; the reporter simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This fixation on pretending to be an outsider is a mainstay of modern newspaper journalism, which is why so many people turn to magazines. Nobody buys a magazine to read what outsiders think; they turn to magazines to find out what insiders think. We do the work our readers don’t have the time to do, whether testing new restaurants or checking out private schools. We don’t pretend to have our noses pressed up against the plate glass window; we’re inside the candy store, measuring the quantities and sampling the goods. Once in a while, we’ll call the health department.
Dallas has changed in the last 35 years—so have you, and so have I. When I returned from New York 14 years ago (after a brief 14-year sabbatical), some people told me Dallas had changed so much that D Magazine no longer had a role in it. My then partners Harlan Crow and Bob Kaminski didn’t believe that, and neither did I. For one thing, a city’s fundamental culture never changes, any more than a man’s character ever changes. San Francisco will always be San Francisco; Pittsburgh will always be Pittsburgh. For another thing, the more complex the city becomes, the more readers search for the kind of guidance we give.
Years ago, an MBA candidate came by to interview me for his thesis on the media business. He wanted to know how I judged the success of a particular issue, whether it was advertising sales, or newsstand sales, or new subscription orders. I told him it was 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 aren’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.
One more thing has not changed in all these 35 years: the joy of working with talented people who want to make their city the best that it can be. And that’s what makes publishing what it is, because the joy is worth sharing.