The last two decades have made me a believer

The Advocate’s publisher, Rick Wamre, is one of the most modest people in the world. Rick does what he does, watches to see what happens, and then moves on to what’s next on his list.

Which is why I’m writing this column, because Rick isn’t going to do it. He is the last person in the world to tell you that this month marks the Advocate’s 20th anniversary. We published our first issue, a newsprint broadsheet, in April 1991. And no, you won’t read much about this anywhere else in the magazine because that’s not how Rick does business. We had a meeting about doing a 20th anniversary issue late last year, and Rick ended the discussion quickly: “I don’t think our readers really care about this, and I don’t think they want to see us pat ourselves on the back.”

So this month’s issue won’t highlight our milestone. Which is too bad, because it is a milestone. What Rick has done, along with a talented and dedicated group of employees over the past two decades, is to rewrite the definition of community journalism. Today, what we do is called “hyperlocal”, and every media company in the country, no matter how big, is hopping on the hyperlocal bandwagon. They see it as the future of journalism, and they’re spending millions of dollars to convince readers that a company owned by people thousands of miles away is actually local.

In 1991, though, no one except Rick thought community journalism was hip or cool. In fact, other journalists made fun of us for doing it. I can’t tell you how many times in the early days, when we tried to hire a reporter or an ad rep, that they turned us down because they thought they were too good for what we were doing. They wanted the big time, and we weren’t that. That was their loss.

I wasn’t much help, either. Rick and I have been friends since our college days, and he came to me in 1990 with the idea for the Advocate. His plan was to cover a city neighborhood in the same way that a suburban weekly covers its town, but to do it once a month.

I told him it was the dumbest idea I had ever heard. How could we succeed in a media market that had two daily newspapers, suburban and city weeklies all over the place, and TV stations that, then, actually covered neighborhood issues?

Shows how much I knew. Since then, we have moved from newsprint to a full-color magazine, and we publish in five Dallas neighborhoods. And while the media world was collapsing around us during the recession, we held our own. It wasn’t easy, but we got through the mess without pay cuts or layoffs. There aren’t a lot of other companies in our business that can say that.

Rick will be embarrassed when he reads that, and he is going to be even more embarrassed about what he reads next. He won’t want you to know how he worked another full-time job in the early years, in addition to his Advocate duties, to support his family. Or how he sold ads, took photos and wrote stories. Or delivered the Advocate himself. Yes, I helped, and so did Tom Zielinski, our third founder, until business picked up and we could hire a staff. But we would not be where we are without Rick’s vision and dedication. He made the Advocate, and I truly believe the Advocate is an integral part of our neighborhood, and Lakewood and East Dallas would be somehow less without us.

So celebrate our 20th anniversary this month. Just don’t let Rick know you’re doing it.

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