Mikeorren has 588 articles published.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.


Update: We now have a CaringBridge page for folks who want updates.

Today, I announced my departure from DallasNews. The official notice is below (with some boring administrivia redacted), but i want to share some additional context.

Some context:

About eighteen months ago, I learned my Dad has late stage Alzheimer’s, something that he and my stepmom had out of intended kindness, kept from me. As an only child, I had to take control of the situation without any guardianship, power of attorney, useful documents or basically any information that would be helpful. From cross-country, I began problem solving, figuring out how to get him into care; how to pay for it; how to move him when the initial care was not enough and there was a shortage of beds available. It wasn’t easy, and continues to be a struggle as I get late-night calls frequently when urgent issues arrive. Then there’s the emotional side of that, including a side-dish of paranoia that I could be headed down the same road.

Then, in September, Crystal fell ill. We and our family doctor thought it was COVID, then chicken pox, then Mononucleosis, then a total mystery. She has continued to worsen in cycles over time and hasn’t had more than a couple consecutive days without fever in ten months. She can’t reliably go out, or do much of anything, without overheating, breaking out in worsening lesions, gasping for air or, most recently, losing consciousness.

The ins and outs of that are her story to tell, but what it means is that our lives and home have largely been turned upside down.

While we are blessed and privileged to have means and access to good medical care, what I didn’t have was the good sense to pay attention to my emotional state. It’s worn on me over time. I spent the first few months saying, “I’m always best in a crisis. Pile it on.”

Then, in arrogance and hubris, I’d say, “Me at my worst is better than a lot of people at their best. I can handle it.”

Then, I started trying to patch with a smidge of self-care, but wound up just feeling anxious that I was letting my people down by not being on my A-game in any aspect of life. I had ignored the advice I so often give, that in bumpy skies you need to put on your own air mask before assisting others.

Basically, I felt exactly like this:

I can’t encourage you enough to watch this video. Too many of us wind up feeling this way.

Over the last couple months, I finally began to realize that by carrying so much, I was making myself physically and emotionally unwell. I had conversations with our CEO, who was supportive and offered some really kind solutions, but I had to admit that anything short of a longer break felt like a half-measure.

So, I am taking a long sabbatical from all work. As I’m about to turn 50, I’m calling it my “halftime break.” It will be somewhere between six months and a year. Obviously, it’s not fair to leave DallasNews in the lurch over that period of time, so I’m fully stepping away. I believe there could be opportunities to reunite down the road, but that shouldn’t be on anyone’s radar at this point. DallasNews has the right team (that I helped build) and I am 100% focused on the business of the Orren family.

As news has come out in the office today, I’m overwhelmed with the offers of help and support, and I expect more of that is to come. So I’m going to share how you can help me:

Pray that we find answers on what’s ailing Crystal so we can begin treatments. If praying isn’t your thing, then just spend some moments mentally wishing us well and see if that bears some fruit.

Take an object lesson about the importance of self-care and mental health. I foolishly used to scoff at the idea of therapy or psychiatry. I don’t now. I also know that my gut-it-out mentality is not healthy in situations like this. I realize that we are beyond blessed and privileged to have the ability to check out of the world for a bit — most people don’t have that. But I also know I might not have gotten to the point of needing a full time out if I had taken care of myself in smaller ways over time. Don’t do what I did, especially if you work for a team as supportive of mine.

Don’t forget about me. I am not done building the future of local news and marketing, not by a long shot. Make no mistake, part of this is about me getting a breath so I can come back at full strength — tan, rested and ready. I figure if I’m lucky, I have a couple more shots at felling this windmill and I intend to do just that.

But help me take the break. I want to be very clear — the absolute earliest I will take on any work of any kind (besides the odd hobbyist DJ set) is early 2023. Even if the dreamiest dream job or the most exciting consulting opportunity rolls by in the next few months, I’m not here for it.

I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me in this decision and been so kind to us as we’re gearing up for a season of healing, reflection and growing in strength. We’ll see you on the other side.

My Wick Allison MBA

Wick Allison (1948–2020)

Yesterday, Dallas — and a specific group of brilliant writers, sellers, artists, accountants, hustlers, misfits and dreamers — lost a dear friend, mentor and father figure. D Magazine founder and publisher Wick Allison left us last night, taken by his umpteenth battle with cancer.

I haven’t worked with Wick daily since 1999; been in business with him since 2009; or seen him more than a couple times a year since 2012. But even absent this reason to think back on him, if you asked me who the three people who had most influenced my career and adult life, the answer would be Wick.

We alumni of D, almost regardless of era, share an inefable connection. (I say almost, because like the only other person I can think of so connected to his creation over so many years, Lorne Michaels, Wick had a relatively brief intermezzo in the early nineties.)

Having worked for Wick is an experience unto itself and connects us, for some ill, but mostly good. I could meet a stranger who worked for Wick for six months forty years ago, and we could have a daylong conversation without a lull. While the details might differ, the stories would rhyme. Within minutes we’d be finishing each other’s sentences, because the connection, the man, is indelible and familiar.

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Sound Salvation — Ep 1: Sympathy

Yeah, I know the blog has been fallow again. I’m thinking about changing that, but in the meantime (the in-between-time) I’m indulging my yen to do a music podcast, at least with a pilot.

Check it out:

Weekly spins: Folk Family Revival, EODM, Hollis Brown, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Dylan LeBlanc, Rickie Lee Jones

If three makes a trend, I’ve got this weekly post nailed now. There’s an embarrassment of riches this week, so I’ll jump straight in:

I’ve got a big soft spot for this Texas band, whose heartfelt debut hit right as I was going through a rough patch at the top of the decade and served as the soundtrack of that year for me.

Longtime Folk Family Revival fans might be a smidge surprised by a harder-rocking concept album this time out. The concept piece is a double-edged sword, making it more difficult, but more rewarding to get into the new work. If you like Shooter Jennings concept stuff, or have been hungering for an Americana riff on The Wall, this is for you.

As I said last week, a good cover teaches you something new about the song and about the band playing it. On that basis, Eagles of Death Metal’s new one is a smashing success. I don’t generally dig EODM, but this eclectic compilation hit my sweet spot in the same way that Me First and the Gimme Gimmes does, without falling into the trap of everything sounding exactly the same (see Weezer’s recent outing). Bonus points for two(!) Kenny Rogers covers.

The first of two big lost-and-live releases, this is the most successful, a 1973 vintage Neil Young show that shows off both pristine acoustic takes and his rock, sans grunge style.

As much as I love me some Bob Dylan, and as excited as I am for the upcoming Scorsese documentary on this same topic, I just can’t do another live Dylan compilation, much less fifteen discs of it. There’s a point where completism creates a blur. I tried to get into the single-disc sampler, but nothing spoke to me.

Speaking of Bob, Hollis Brown, named for the Dylan classic, drops a new one that, like Folk Family Revival (above) stretches the band beyond its so-far typical Americana roots. This is a band that I love every time I hear them, but tend to forget later. Ozone Park feels like one I’ll remember.

Dylan LeBlanc is new to me, via a mention on the Bitter Southerner Facebook group. I’m liking his new outing which feels both retro-seventies and modern, while highlighting his Muscle Shoals heritage, via his father. The songwriting puts me in mind of mid-career Ryan Adams.

This is another fairly serviceable covers collection from Rickie Lee Jones that I might not have mentioned were it not for the death of her most famous duet partner this week. That said, her rendition of Bad Company’s “Bad Company” is worth a spin.

I didn’t predict how hard the loss of Dr. John would hit me this week. I loved his stuff before I knew what New Orleans music was about — and he’s been part of more wondrous supergroup moments than I can count. I love him best live, and this disc is the most indicative of the several floating around.

I figured it wouldn’t take long to have a “yeah, right” moment on my random spin of the week, with a too-serendipitous shuffle selection, and here we are. This Alabama 3 song is one of my all-time favorites (like literally top ten all-time) for me — and it happens that band cofounder Reverend Dee Wayne Love died a few weeks ago, just before I started these recaps.

Apple’s moves to the future — Polish, privacy, Pad, and purpose

I have thoughts on the announcements Apple made at it’s annual “Welcome independent developers who want to see how we’re building native features that make your apps obsolete” event. I thought to keep my yap shut on this one, but since my most-read post ever came after a WWDC and I saw some meaningful moves, I figured why not…

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Weekly spins: Mavis Staples; Echo in the Canyon; Stray Cats; Ryan Hamilton; Empire Cats

Further evidence of the chicanery of modern digital media release practices: What should have been last week’s lede was left out, partly because it wasn’t highlighted in Apple’s new music; and partly because we now trickle out a song at a time while letting listeners pre-add the album to their library. [Insert fist-shaking exhortation to exit my lawn here.]

So, without a doubt the album of last week, and maybe this month was Mavis Staples’ We Get By. And I’ve got some other holdovers herein.

Mavis’ late-career renaissance stands second only to Johnny Cash’s, but she seems to have some time to catch up. This time, her muse is Ben Harper, who produced, wrote all the songs, and appears on one track. Mavis means Gospel and hope; Harper means urgency and dark for the light to envelop.

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Lend me your ears, and I’ll share the tale of mine

At the risk of navel- (or earhole-) gazing, my inability to find reliable first-person narrative on my specific hearing issues leads me to believe there’s value in sharing the odyssey that recently led me to becoming a “relatively young” person with hearing aids.

No, I’m not “going deaf.” To the contrary, my hearing is mostly normal and has been relatively unchanged over the years. The issue is that there is a very specific frequency group at which everything goes akimbo:

My recent hearing test, which looks like every other hearing test I’ve done.
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Friday spins: Lee Moses, The Lee Boys, Amyl, Not-Elton-John, Aretha Franklin

As part of my resolution to write more, I’ve set up some specific intervals to write about particular passions. The first of these is a weekly look at new music based on Friday’s new releases.

As an initial aside, I really miss the weekly Tuesday release that was prominent in the days of physical media. There was something nice about the regular not-quite-midweek gift of new tunes (and video, and games, etc.).

The way I tend to listen to music, perhaps because of the old schedule, is to heavy up om my newer picks earlier in the week and favorite mixes on the weekend. So the Friday drops have tended to languish a few days in my queue.

For this first entry, I’ll also note that my tastes are fairly eclectic; and that I use several different tools to keep up with the latest releases. Increasingly, just the “For You” tab on Apple Music (my preferred service) is enough, catching 90% of what I’m seeking. (The algorithm has gotten significantly better just in the past month. I supplement with the app MusicHarbor, and a weekly newsletter from AllMusic.

So with that prelude, this week’s picks:

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