Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Congratulations FRONT: Last Business Mag Standing

TV's Bob Grebe (left) interviews Tom Field (right) and me.
I want to congratulate my long-time friend and former business partner Tom Field for being the last business magazine (publication) standing in the Roanoke Valley after several years of intense competition from much larger and richer businesses.

Roanoke Business, owned by Virginia Business of Richmond and something of a mouthpiece for the Roanoke Chamber, will close this month, leaving only FRONT standing.

FRONT magazine, which Tom and I debuted in October of 2008 after we read the writing on the wall, which told us we were not long for employment at the Times-owned Blue Ridge Business Journal. It had new leadership (Debbie Meade) and we knew that meant cuts down the line. We were right.

We had just finished the best seven months in the BRBJ's financial history, but that didn't matter. Meade wanted to bring in her own people. So Tom and I left. I "retired," he resigned. We immediately founded Valley Business FRONT and took almost all the advertisers with us. The long-respected Blue Ridge Business Journal hung on--and it was a matter of hanging by a thread--for about two years, then was unceremoniously dumped by the parent without so much as an announcement in the publication. It deserved better, but The Times never understood the Journal and appeared to put much more effort into worrying about our new magazine than improving the one it owned.

We had been bought a few years earlier by The Times and publisher Walter Rugaber told our staff in a meeting that The Times was "tired of being embarrassed by you," so it bought us. A Times editor had once said to me, "I wish we could do what you do." I asked why it couldn't. "We don't have the resources," he said. We had one full-time editorial person at that time: me.

Roanoke Business sneaked into the Roanoke Valley with the help of the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, something I have never been able to understand. FRONT was a member of the chamber; RB owner Virginia Business was an interloper, which not only got chamber support, but also got its business and an office in chamber quarters. That was a shameful episode.

Still, it was a challenge FRONT confronted and now has won. RB was never interesting in any way. It had the same flat look as its parent and it was written by former Times employees primarily. Its editor was a top-notch, nationally-known environmental writer, but he was not a business editor. In fact, he had been fired by The Times (as I had at one time). He hired a lot of former newspaper people to write the magazine and it read like a Sunday newspaper, not a magazine.

I left FRONT a couple of years ago (selling my half to Tom) in order to finish writing a novel that had become stuck in a busy schedule. Tom took over everything and kept the magazine alive. I contributed when I could and still do, but was no longer a factor. It is his baby and it has won.


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