Michael Ryan

Fort Worth can grow and change, yet stay the same. Here’s how

After an angry rant in which he skewers his romantic rival, Albert Brooks’ character in the film “Broadcast News” stuns his newsroom colleague with news of his love for her.

“How do you like that?” he laments. “I buried the lead.”

Burying the lead — not putting the most important information in the lead paragraph of a news article — has historically been a cardinal sin. I’m committing it here. You’ll find the lead to this column a little further down.

First I want to explain how, having fallen in love with newspapering and the written word many years ago, I rekindled that passion in Fort Worth. And why I hope you’ll care.

A confluence of factors came together to make my brief time here life-changing. (If you’ve not heard, this is my last week before moving on to our sister Kansas City Star newspaper in the city of my birth.)

For one thing, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, currently populated by some of the most skillful and dynamic journalists I’ve encountered in my many travels, is an unusually proud and storied institution, even for the colorful newspaper business. Reading Jerry Flemmons’ eloquent biography on the newspaper’s co-founder, “Amon: The Life of Amon Carter, Sr. of Texas,” is a total immersion into the tradition I stand in the shadow of today.

The esteemed and idiosyncratic Mr. Carter’s is a bygone era I had nothing to do with, of course, but it makes me proud to be even tangentially associated with it and him. Has there ever been a more bullish booster of this city, or a more brash proponent of newspapers or cowboy mythology? While Carter was planting the Star-Telegram’s stake in West Texas, Flemmons writes, a chronic weather-related interruption in newspaper deliveries there drove readers of “The Gumps,” a serial comic strip, crazy wondering what was happening to the fictional family. They finally broke down and telegrammed the Star-Telegram to find out.

Longtime residents, too, know well the story of legendary Star-Telegram newspaper hawker Monroe Odom — who called out headlines on the street for a dizzying 59 years, 44 of them outside the Worth Hotel. His ability to tailor his barking to the passerby — pitching petroleum-related stories to oil men, for instance — and his penchant for selling papers even to subscribers and Star-Telegram employees, often at a premium, all combined with his longevity to make his 1971 death front-page news.

Carter’s six-gun antics and over-the-top entertaining of Hollywood stars and powerful politicians put Fort Worth on the map. If Mr. Carter over-promised at times on behalf of Fort Worth, forgive me for thinking it has more than lived up to his hype. It is, indeed, a big small town, as a local leader suggested in my presence only this week. It’s comfortable and homey, yet newly crowned the 13th largest city in the country by the Census Bureau, and host to most of the amenities of the top 12.

The result of all this is that I’m in love with Fort Worth.

How do you like that? I buried the lead. But mainly so you’d see where I was coming from.

A prominent citizen asked me if I had any advice for Fort Worth on the way out of town. I felt unworthy of the question. But I instantly thought of a lyric from the song “The Way You Look Tonight:”:

Keep that breathless charm.

It’s a gorgeous sentiment, exquisitely put. And it’s my wish for Fort Worth.

The charm is all around you, with sections of town that are nothing less than priceless keepsakes from America’s most romanticized period. Longhorns and stockyards and kids prancing in the fountains next to the Chisholm Trail mural in Sundance Square. Youthful Seventh and Magnolia streets. The amazing amalgam of museums. The walkability and restaurants of downtown. The zoo and Botanic Garden. It goes on and on.

But really, it’s the people. If you find any better someplace else, bring them here. They’re probably on the way anyway.

Keeping that breathless charm won’t be easy. Not with all the frantic growth. Getting the signage right for the new Dickies Arena — not too gawdy for the dignity of the Cultural District, but helpful enough for motorists — will be a neat trick in itself.

Most importantly, in my mind, keeping that breathless charm will require keeping one’s head while TV’s talking heads explode. Disagreement need not devolve into divisiveness here, as it so often seems to elsewhere.

Won’t you please arrange it?

The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.
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