Thursday, April 18, 2024

Upfront: Respecting readers is key to magazine’s 40 year success

This makes 300 or so Up Front columns I’ve written — and that doesn’t count all the times I cadged, cajoled or coerced staff members to fill in for me during my 28 years as this magazine’s top editor. Though I thought I had written my last when I retired six years ago, I guess it makes sense that I scrive this one for its 40th anniversary.

Here’s what I had to say in the first, in the May 1987 issue: “For us to succeed, you have to enjoy us. If we do our jobs right, Business North Carolina’s arrival each month will be eagerly awaited, like a visit from an old friend, one who keeps you informed, amused and, most of all, interested. We might even make you mad at times, but, as a friend, we promise never to try to bore you.”

I can’t claim we never bored anyone. But we certainly made some people mad. Executives, riled at what they’d read, sometimes pulled their company’s advertising; one governor, livid over a column, reportedly told his commerce secretary he wanted to see us shut down. But BNC survived, winning national awards and attracting top talent (who too often took a pay cut to write for, edit, design and produce the magazine — and that’s not to mention the sales staff, who not only suffered those advertisers’ wrath but the pain in their pockets from lost commissions). But there is one primary reason, in my opinion, that BNC still exists: The magazine has always respected its readers’ intelligence.

It’s a hard row regional business publications hoe: You often report and write about the companies that pay your bills — your advertisers. And unlike newspapers, whose reporters almost always know more about their beats than the vast majority of their readers do, that’s a herculean task for a magazine targeted to C-level executives and business owners. These folks are smart, they’re busy; they don’t have to read a monthly magazine to do their jobs. You must catch and keep their attention, giving them something they want and — therefore need — to read. No pablum or puffery. They want to know things, and they know you learn as much from failure as success. Business has its heroes, but nobody, they know, is perfect.

A point I made — and recycled in several of those 300 columns — is that this magazine can be provocative, but it must always be thorough, fair and accurate. Over its four decades, through all the changes threatening print and mass media, that has been a constant, not only during the three decades I worked there but before that and even now, in the capable hands of its current editor and its publisher.

As I said in that first column: “We won’t attempt to play the part of ‘the voice of business’ in North Carolina. That’s not our role, and, besides, it’s wrong to think that something as big, vibrant and complex as business in this state speaks with one voice. Rather than speak for business, these pages will echo what is actually happening out there in the workaday world, from the executive suite to the factory floor.”

David Kinney, the former owner, editor and publisher of Business North Carolina, splits his time among Charlotte, Edenton and southern Virginia.

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