Page 22


plaudits for profit margins than for afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Joe Pulitzer he’s not. As Dean Singleton continues to accumulate debt in building his empire a year ago he paid $110 million for the Times Herald, and in a span of 96 hours last month he announced he was buying the Houston Post for $150 million and the Denver Post for $95 million one question is whether his whole house of cards might not come tumbling down if one of his larger acquisitions fails, not a far-fetched scenario given that each of his three major papers are locked in costly circulation battles with a bigger rival in cities with sputtering economies. All this means that Singleton, whose track record has given “editorial excellence” a new twist he’s for it, as long as it doesn’t offend advertisers and can be done on the cheap will be even more reluctant to cough up the bucks necessary to give his 1.31 million readers quality newspapers. at Arlington, where he majored in business and worked in “several editing spots” for the Dallas Morning News \(the Times Herald told him he was “too some reporters have credited Singleton with graduating from college, he has in recent accounts referred with apparent pride to his failure to receive a diploma, calling himself a “college dropout.” At the Morning News Singleton proved himself a talented copy editor, though he took a lot of ribbing from his elders. “We called him Teeny Weeny Deany, or Stinky,” recalled Bill McAda, a night city editor who Singleton later hired as editor of the Fort Worth Press. “He was a plump-faced, plump-bellied little boy who wasn’t even old enough to buy his own beer when we went out after the paper was put to bed,” McAda said. “We had to buy it for him.” In 1972, deciding he’d had enough of big-city journalism and journalists, he set about to buy himself a rural weekly. Trouble was, he didn’t have any money. But he’d been asking around and he heard about a man named Edwin M. Eakin, who along with his partner ran a weekly paper and a printing plant in the West Texas town of Quanah. He called Eakin and the two met one day at the Green Frog Cafe on Highway 380 in Jacksboro, about halfway between Graham and Paradise. Eakin decided to give the kid a break, and installed him as publisher of a weekly they formed in Clarendon, population 2,500, in the Texas Panhandle. Eakin and his partner backed Singleton entirely in the venture, putting up about $10,000. “He didn’t have a penny when I met him,” said Eakin, who now runs a small publishing house in Austin. Singleton published his first issue of the Clarendon Press in May 1972. Eakin says Singleton still owes him $15,000 from a later deal; Singleton denies the charge. “We ended our contractual arrangement and never discussed it again,” he said. Not long after he arrived in Clarendon, Singleton married into the local power structure. He wed Cynthia Lowe, who worked part-time in the paper’s composing room. Her father, Bill, was a prominent attorney in town and scion of an old ranching family. Although the marriage lasted less than three years, Singleton continued to court Bill Lowe, who later lent him money and co-signed a bank loan for him. “Dean used to use the word ‘romance,’ says Ed Eakin. “It meant that if you were trying to sell a guy an ad, or influence him, he’d always say, ‘now you’ve got to romance ’em.’ ” Singleton went on to romance another small West Texas town, setting up shop in Azle, just west of Fort Worth again backed by Eakin, who co-signed the note at a Clarendon bank, and by Lowe. He hired a strong editor, Ray Bell, and the paper did well financially and editorially. “We damn near swept the Texas Press Association awards,” said Bell, whose next professional encounter with Singleton, at the Fort Worth Press, would be a less rewarding experience. By 1975, Singleton was itching for more of a challenge. At 24, he’d run a couple of successful weeklies. The time had come to try his hand at a metropolitan daily. When the feisty old Fort Worth Press went belly-up in May after 54 years of playing second fiddle to the Star-Telegram Singleton prepared to inflict his vision of daily journalism on the people of Fort Worth. The first thing he did, recalls Eakin, was to lease a Lincoln Continental. “I told him, ‘You’re making a big mistake. You ought to get an old beat-up pick-up and go down there and make people feel sorry for you.’ But that was his way of creating the illusion of a big-time newspaper man.” The illusion faded quickly. Eightyeight days after he revived it on August 10, the Press was dead again, but not before it earned a passel of dubious achievements. Among the highlights of Singleton’s tenure, wrote John Moulder in a 1975 Texas Observer story, were what Moulder sardonically referred to as “best editorial” and “best memo.” Moulder, who covered the courts for the Press, wrote that two weeks before the November statewide election to ratify a new Constitution, the Press, “on Singleton’s orders, published an editorial completely opposing” each of the eight propositions. Two days before the election, Moulder wrote, the paper published an editorial “totally supporting all eight propositions, making no mention of the editorial two weeks before. Singleton was awarded “best memo” for a classic he circulated to each reporter \(presumably none of whom Press, you will find an ad from Mitchell’s Department Store. It is an ad full of coupons with various special buys on merchandise. . . . In a sense, YOUR JOBS DEPEND ON THE NUMBER OF COUPONS MITCHELL’S GETS FROM THIS ADVERTISEMENT. Please get your wives to look at this ad, decide what items you can use from this ad and TAKE THE COUPONS to a nearby Mitchell’s store. Buy anything Teeny Weeny Deany BORN AUGUST 1, 1951, the fourth of five children of an oilfield pumper, Singleton learned early on the importance of credit to a budding business career. When he was eight, said an older sister, Patricia Robinson, he decided to sell mail-order Christmas cards door-to-door. Undercapitalized, he wrote a letter to the Cheerful Card Company in Scarsdale, New York, to request a line of credit. Based on the letter, Singleton told The New York Times not long ago, the company extended him the credit. Singleton’s newspaper career began in high school, in Graham, Texas, where as a 15-year-old he worked parttime for The Graham News. Late last year, he came home again, buying the remaining local paper, The Graham Leader, a semi-weekly, for “sentimental reasons,” his sister, Pat, said. Ten years her brother’s senior, Pat is now his secretary at the Times Herald, answering his telephone, “Mr. Singleton’s office.” Singleton later worked briefly for the Wichita Falls Record News and for the Tyler Morning Telegraph while he attended junior college in Tyler. He then transferred to the University of Texas Bill Adler is a freelance writer living in Austin. 10 OCTOBER 9, 1987