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My Wick Allison MBA

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

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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.

Haven’t heard of Texas’ colonias? Neither had I before a mission trip showed me a Third-World American enclave

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Flying back from South Texas yesterday, I found myself vacillating between anger and contentment. Contentment came from service work that my 28:1 men’s group brothers and I had done alongside a men’s group from Park Cities Baptist Church. Anger rose from the poverty, inequality, and squalor we saw in our own state.

Odds are, you’ve never heard of the colonias before. I hadn’t until we lined up this trip. In an informal social media survey last night, once I filtered out friends who grew up on the border, it looked like less than a third of Texans I know are aware of them. Keep Reading

Developers: Come build the printing press of tomorrow today at The Dallas Morning News.

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If you know a full-stack or front-end developer who cares about local news, please share this with them:

I mentioned a couple months ago that I’ve gotten the opportunity to lead a product team here at The Dallas Morning News in a complete rebuild of our digital properties leveraging The Washington Post’s Arc platform.

I softplayed it at the time, as there were still a few pieces in flux. So I may have buried the lede:

This is the exact thing that I’ve wanted to do my whole career. Keep Reading

The tellers of truth are not the “enemies of the people”

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Last week, I joined with thousands of people around the country engaging with Q Commons on the topic “The Power of We.” For those less familiar, I’d soundbite Q as “TedTalks through a Christian worldview.”

As one of the Dallas Speakers, I tackled the topic of media in our divisive age. The video is below, but I’ve also included my script, as there were a couple pieces I had to trim on the fly to make the time limit work. Keep Reading

How a Flemish film rejuvenated my obsession with Americana music

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Original post on Medium.

When Crystal and I fired up The Broken Circle Breakdown on the AppleTV last night, I was initially hacked off to discover it was subtitled. We had bought into it based upon the trailer, which outlined the film via its English-language music and visuals, and not realizing it was an Oscar contender in the foreign film category.

Not that I’m anti-subtitles. Crystal works for a US distributor of Asian and Indie film, which means that we watch more subtitled fare than the average household. (This also suggests I might have been more up to date on the Oscar nods as well.) Keep Reading

How I manage information overload — revisited

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One of the most popular posts on this blog was my December, 2009 missive on how I manage all the bits and bytes streaming past me all day. Today, I’m doing an e-Seminar for the International Women’s Media Foundation on lessons I learned in the Pegasus News startup, and my mentorees requested I add the info overload bit as an appendix. Enough has changed in a year-and-a-quarter that I thought I’d update it a bit, with a new post after the jump:
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Just be amazing

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On Saturday, I joined a half-dozen media friends, old and new, to speak to students at the KIPP: Truth Academy’s career day. Although it wasn’t part of our planned schtick, one thing that stood out for me was the fact that all of us had one thing in common — multiple jobs. Some divided between two conventional employers; others, had a day-job and their own business; others, a bunch of freelance clients.
As that’s increasingly the norm in our post-post-industrial age, and because I’m getting ready to do some networking at SXSW, I thought I’d go ahead and introduce my consulting entity, Just Be Amazing (JBA). I’d been holding off because of potential dayjob discussions in the background, but I think anyone who knows me understands by now that I’m going to be sharper across the board if I have the mental diversions of multiple irons in the fire.  JBA may just be a dba for my freelance work, or it might someday become its own company, but it’s a concept that I’m striving to display in all I do.
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I love living in the future: The new mobile age

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The future is now

Way, way, way back in 2005 when I first started Pegasus News, I used to talk about how the Internet had changed human communication more than any innovation since Gutenberg’s printing press. The fact that everyone could be a publisher seemed as liberating as the move from hand-inscribed books to mass-printed tomes and papers.
Now, I realize that what we saw in 2005 was just the first act, the prototype — and it is the mobile advances of the last couple years that may be the most significant change to the way we live day in and out.
Smartphones like the iPhone and the latest Android phones, as well as tablet devices like the iPad have changed the game, both in terms of consumption and creation, perhaps more meaningfully than computers ever did or will.
Assuming you’re over 25, think back to the first computer you used: It was probably for work or for school, and a specific set of functions dictated how you used the machine. It was a tool, nothing more than a much more efficient typewriter or adding machine. Many have brought these devices into their home and personal lives, but the percentage is far lower than you might think. There is a very digital divide — I can see it in the difference in response when I send targeted emails in major metros as opposed to smaller, more blue collar markets. The latter are filled with Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL addresses and are more often read at night, as they lack access to Internet computing at work.
But mobile is ubiquitous. Almost everyone has a cell phone of some sort, and by the end of this year, you will hardly be able to buy a phone that doesn’t provide email and browser access.
Think that mobile information doesn’t have impact? Consider these stats about how mobile is affecting our local lives:

  • Mobile search is growing more than 50% per year, with 1.5 billion searches to be made this year.
  • 80% of buyers research major purchases to be made within 20 miles of their home online.
  • Right this minute, half of the connections to the Internet are mobile devices.
  • The top means of accessing local information online is the mobile browser.

But it’s not just about consuming information: Twitter, Posterous, Foursquare, Facebook and other self-publishing mechanisms have all grown exponentially because of mobile connection. Shooting video and then editing and posting on a computer can be a big hassle, and a barrier to participation. New devices like the iPhone 4 make these all simple and instantaneous. (The video at right was shot, edited and posted on Lake Ray Hubbard  in less than ten minutes.) Any smart site like Dallas South News has a special mobile edition.
Tablet devices like the iPad are just as disruptive — they both create a light computing experience for those not so technologically inclined and allow techies like me to be  nearly fully-armed in more places with less effort. Since I got my iPad, I have read 10x more than I did before. And I know that my Mom won’t get confused or inadvertently download viruses using the device.
There is no part of our lives that mobile communication doesn’t impact. I recently saw a friend tweeting that when his pastor asked the congregation to show their bibles, there were more devices than paper-bound books. Advertising, increasingly has to consider not only demographics, but current location.
The question then is how are we going to utilize these new technologies? Are they just another weapon of mass distraction, another way to find out what LeBron James or Lindsay Lohan are up to today? Or will we use them to better transform our communities? An HD video of one’s children or pets is a luxury the likes of which no society has ever enjoyed. A similar video of a town council or school board meeting is nearly as easy to create and distribute and has far more impact.
I suspect that you have some idea how mobile communication and connectivity has impacted your life, whether it is a video chat with your family while traveling; connecting with an old friend on Facebook; playing a Farmville-type game to kill time at stoplights; or finding that special restaurant on the road. We are in the initial moments of the mobile age, where those a block, a mile and a timezone away can all be touched in an instant. I only hope that our use of that gift is as profound as what has been done with Gutenberg’s tool.

The (currently) lost opportunity with iAds

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So I imagine, like me, many of you are buying your new iPhones today or at least waiting with bated breath for the New World of the iOS 4.0.

Last week, I followed the WWDC keynote, and despite all the gadget and gizmo talk, there was one thing that stuck in my head. In fact, it haunted me as nothing has since I first wrote the business plan for Pegasus News in 2004:

150 million credit cards on file from people using iTunes and/or the App Store (and now the iBooks Store). 150 Million.

As Steve Jobs said, “We have 150 million accounts — we think it’s the biggest on the web. We’re number one.”

Interestingly, he then segued into a discussion of iAds, but there was no connection.

As someone who has been obsessed with transactional ad models for the better part of this decade, this presented both a tragedy and an opportunity. That night, after mulling the problem while floating in the pool with the pups, I toddled inside and fired off an email to

From Mike Orren <>



date Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 8:49 PM

subject The half (of iAds) that’s wasted


hide details Jun 7 (7 days ago)


Congrats on launching another product I MUST have.

You can’t meet a group of ad folks without hearing the quote from legendary retailer John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

My sole disappointment in your new offerings is that you have a golden opportunity to solve that paradox and are, for now, ignoring it.

Yes, iAds suck less than regular ads. I appreciate that, as that’s a goal I’ve focused on in my business for several years.

But at a million-dollar minimum, you’re missing most of the local market. AND you have 150 million credit card accounts from people who would love to save money transacting with local businesses.

Do you want to provide a marginally better experience for major brand advertising? Or do you (and your developer community) want a piece of 150 million cups of coffee, shirts, bowls of spaghetti, etc.?

As someone who has focused my life on local commerce, I can tell you that the future of local is transactions. And no one is better positioned to change the world by helping small business than Apple is.

To my surprise, the reply came quickly:

from Steve Jobs <>

to “” <>

date Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 9:36 PM

subject Re: The half (of iAds) that’s wasted


hide details Jun 7 (7 days ago)

What would you do if you were us?

Sent from my iPhone

By then, I was drinking wine on the couch with April, which meant a tacit commitment that I was in the no-work zone. But I couldn’t help myself. I banged out a reply on my iPhone:

from Mike Orren <>

to Steve Jobs <>

date Mon, Jun 7, 2010 at 10:04 PM

subject Re: The half (of iAds) that’s wasted


I’d launch a parallel iAds program focused on SMBs. It would be a lite, self-serve, but easily prefabbed version of iAds. It would target based on geo- and/or relevance data from apps– only offers that we know are relevant and therefore wanted. It would fill every piece of inventory not claimed by Big Brands.

Revenue from a % of deals bought through the iAds store (which doesn’t exist today, but would be better than Adsense with about a month’s worth of effort).

I’d use local relevance data across all local and nonlocal apps to solve the last mile problem that has plagued and tantalized local publishers since the first low-baud modem.

The big point is this: You have more credit card numbers than anyone. How are you going to use them to make it easy for me to buy locally? The fact that you have my info and with two clicks I can buy makes me more likely to purchase apps and music. Why not enchiladas and coulattes?





Every ad a wanted ad*, or damn close to it. If that’s not world-changing, I don’t know what is.

• quoting Jeff Jarvis, but pushing a Platonic ideal that any publisher, Apple included, should be seeking.


Mike Orren

Sent from my mobile

The next day, I thought some followup was warranted:

Mike Orren <>


to Steve Jobs <>

date Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 9:19 AM

subject Re: The half (of iAds) that’s wasted


hide details Jun 8 (7 days ago)

One more thing:

Here’s some scenarios of what I have in mind:

Sally owns an Italian restaurant in East Dallas. She had a party booked for tonight, with a prix fixe menu and now is stuck with more lasagna then she sells in a week. She logs into her iAds account, where she’s previously uploaded her logo and menu and a more general special. She replaces that with a one-night deal of all-you-can eat lasagna, salad and desert for $5. Everyone who logs into a location based app within 5 miles and with iAds enabled gets pushed the opportunity to buy the deal through the iAds store with their iAccount that is used for apps and songs too. Everyone who buys shows their phone with a unique code that Sally can enter on an iPhone or laptop to verify the purchase. Apple takes its cut and pays Sally the difference. She’s out nothing up front. Then, she reverts to her usual 10% for iAds customers. The customers may share a rating of the business or special in-app.

Even better: iTunes Genius knows I listen to a lot of Willie Nelson. People who like Willie also like Rodney Crowell. I have none of his music. Rodney’s playing at The Granada Theater in Dallas. Day of show the theater opens up the 50 remaining tickets for 80% off. (At this point, it’s perishable inventory and they’re happy to get another bar tab in the door.) iAds pushes me an offer for the show and takes the lion’s share. Or, offers me the ticket free with the purchase of a Rodney Crowell album through iTunes.

Maybe I’m playing a bowling game on my iPhone– I can get an offer from a local bowling alley, encouraging me to bring the game into real life again bought through iAds. If there’s no local bowling alley on board, then show me the Toy Story 3 ad again.

At higher levels of integration, an Angie’s List app could not only recommend a local plumber, but allow me to take advantage of a special from one of the recommended plumbers, again transacted through iAds.

The possibilities are staggering. And you already have the engine to easily sell to your users and deliver a cut to the publisher (or retail outlet).

The point is ths: The local ad market is moving to a transactional model, but it is extremely fragmented. No one else will deliver the kind of experience Apple does (and therefore a high enough sellthrough). And almost no one else is positioned to scale with that many credit card holders conditioned to buy with two clicks. Almost no one has enough scale such that the offers can be “bought not sold.” This is what Google and the other ad networks want to do through the phone, but they aren’t nearly as well positioned to transact.

And, most importantly, you can make people’s lives richer by connecting them with local businesses and getting them to go out to do and see things would have otherwise missed.

And wouldn’t it be amazing if the iAds provided enough value and savings over a year to pay for your phone?

Unfortunately, I never heard back. In the meantime, I’ve had more time to think on this, and while I can debate whether or not it’s a good idea for Apple to have as much power as I propose, the undeniable case is that they can. From the dawn of the InterWebs, through AdWords, to Groupon, and towards the future– we are moving closer and closer to a transactional model that is about moving perishable inventory by putting deals in front of the right engaged people at the right time.

The big hole in most of these sorts of business models, as was the big hole in the plan, cribbed from my 2004 bizplan draft, in my final email to Steve is this — you have to have a tremendous number of people (read: credit card numbers) ready to transact with a click or two. Apple is the only media company delivering ads who has that, at this scale.

I don’t know what they’re thinking about in Cupertino today. Maybe it’s how many physical devices they can sell. But I don’t think that is, or should be, the endgame. I’d hope they’re thinking different. Because no one has ever had the opportunity we they face now.

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