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But even then, skeptics wondered if Brown would make the best use of Dean—and now, a year later, Talk has published only two of his stories, while churning out mountains of puff. Meanwhile, Dean has turned in a profile of bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley, a report on the moonshiners of Franklin County, Virginia, and a memoir about driving an ice-cream truck. In each case, Talk bought the story, paid the full fee, and then sat on it.

So is Dean on the outs at Talk? Editorial director Bob Wallace calls Dean a "great writer" whom "I'd like to see writing many stories for us in the years to come." Asked why Dean's stories were held, he says it's "just mix," that instinct editors use to decide the contents of a particular issue. He says Talk held the moonshiners story because they were scooped by the Times, which ran a similar piece March 23.

But one source says Talk had the moonshiners story "before anyone else." It was fact-checked and art-ready, and "if they had run it in a timely fashion, they would not have been scooped." Wallace now concedes Talk could have published it first.

Dean did not respond to a request for comment. But he's not changing his style to please anyone: Last Friday, he had a piece in The Wall Street Journal about . . . a dying beer joint in Southeast D.C.

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