In The Watchdog’s year-end analysis of my work, I find it instructive that your top 10 watchdog stories from 2018, as determined by online page views, are different from mine.
Let’s review favorites, yours then mine. First, here are the most-read watchdog columns of 2018.
1. A waitress who defeated an auto dealer in court gets the surprise of a lifetime, thanks to readers.
Readers were moved by Christal Scott’s efforts to right a wrong. When the system failed her, donors came through with enough for a new car.
2. This superintendent gets paid over $400,000 a year to run the strangest school district in North Texas.
What I remember now about this Grand Prairie ISD story is that in a follow-up column I added Superintendent Susan Simpson Hull’s bonus, and her take-home pay will actually be $552,000.
3. Here’s a new and inexpensive way to get help protesting your 2018 property tax.
A series of columns exposing inequities in the property tax system and detailing how to protest appraisals drew thousands of readers, many of whom went on to protest hearings.
4. JFK’s assassin shot her husband; all she wants is to be buried next to him.
So glad this got worked out for Marie Tippit, widow of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.
5. Texas law banning surcharges for credit card payments was overturned. Now you’ll pay.
The law actually changed in August, but until I broke this story in late November, this news was never shared. Sorry I took so long.
6. Politicians love to get our attention, as long as it’s positive.
I couldn’t tell which was more annoying: Beto O’Rourke’s constant campaign texts or Ted Cruz’s fake “summons” fundraising letters that looked like they came from the government. Like their election, it was a close call.
7. For a change, Tarrant County prosecutors are going after home contractors who don’t finish the job.
A good news story. No, make that GREAT news.
8. Garage door company is hurting, but it still manages to hurt others.
A $160 garage door repair for Marilyn Levin turned into $2,100. It’s what “Neighborhood Garage Door Service,” also known as GDS and hundreds of other names, is famous for. Levin fought back and got a refund.
9. AT&T wins ethics award — and three hours later, the company gets tied to Michael Cohen’s money mess.
Let’s just say that three hours after lunch, I had to toss out the first draft and write a new lead.
10. Why are Whataburger, Raising Cane’s and In-N-Out Burger covering for the mistakes of a Denton bakery?
Readers love bread stories. Who knew?
My top 10 stories
These are my favorite stories, and you might have missed them.
1. Beware: Thieves can use a post office service to hijack your mail for your identity.
I previously announced USPS’ “Informed Delivery” service as a way to protect your identity. Then Chris Torraca of Grapevine showed how he was ripped off because of it. The program sends you an email every day showing the outside envelopes of the mail coming later that day for delivery. Crooks intercepted Chris’ emails. I stand corrected.
2. Here’s why the Texas Lottery’s Willy Wonka game and its promised $1 billion prize was a sham.
When I first explored this sketchy nationwide game a year ago, I found a lot of flaws. But I didn’t realize until it was over that out of the tens of millions of ticket buyers, only one person had a chance to win a billion dollars. That one person? She didn’t win.
3. Why I became an honorary member of the Ku Klux Klan, and what I did with the membership card.
A life-sized painting of a modern-day Ku Klux Klan meeting at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin stirred dark memories of when I interviewed Klan leaders years ago in Georgia and West Virginia.
4. Experts told me not to find the guy who falsely uses my home address. I did anyway.
After years of getting his tickets and warrant notices in my mail, I found him. He turned out to have a sad story about how he ended up using my address. Plus, he’s trying to turn his life around. Surprisingly inspiring.
5. A trip to Seattle shows why too-powerful Amazon should be busted into little pieces.
I needed to see it, feel it, be in the midst of Amazon world HQ’s to understand the ramifications of this amazing company that captures about half of all online sales from growing too big.
6. Hickok45, YouTube’s most popular gun shooting star, visits Dallas for 2018 NRA Convention.
My feature about meeting America’s gun instructor at the convention appeared online only. He’s a former school teacher whose gun reviews reach millions on YouTube. He pushes gun safety first and foremost.
7. Three words that prevent you from falling for scams and oversized advertising promises.
I traveled back in time four decades to one of my first newspaper jobs where I wrote a syndicated column called “Check it Out.” I learned at a young age that along with “I love you,” those are the three most important words.
8. A Dallas man showed how to fight for a new city park, but he will never get to see it.
Bruce Hatter was volunteer of the year for the Dallas Parks Foundation. But he never knew that.
9. This man sold his calf to travel to New York and pitch an idea to a big CEO.
To me, this story was a movie. I saw it in cinematic scenes and tried to write it that way. Imagine this young man from Colombia, on his first trip to the U.S., lost in New York City, cold and frightened. Of course, the big-time media CEO would not see him.
10. Where to get a $9 lobster roll in DFW — named after a guy you might recognize.
Weinberger’s Deli on Grapevine’s Main Street named its new sandwich after me. Lieber’s Lobster Roll is one of the top sellers. Honored.
I can’t wait to see what happens in Watchdog Nation in 2019. A Happy Watchdog New Year to all y’all!