Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blue Ridge Business Journal to Cease Publication This Month

The inevitable has finally happened: The Blue Ridge Business Journal will cease operations this month, according to an announcement from its owner, The Roanoke Times.

It is both a sad day for me personally and a triumph for our publication, Valley Business FRONT. I was there at the birth of the BRBJ (founded by Andrew Horn and Russ Hawkins), which became a fine business publication, one that won many awards and was what former Times Publisher Wendy Zomparelli called “a must read” for this market.

The Times bought the Journal from Jim Lindsey in 1997, but only in the last two years did it exert full influence over content. When it began to exert that influence, General Manager Tom Field and I (the editor) left and started FRONT, taking most of the advertising with us. The Journal never recovered. The Journal was folded into The Times in January of this year, moving into the main building.

Times Publisher Debbie Meade, who has seen dramatically shrinking circulation for the daily newspaper under her supervision, is quoted in The Times press release (the first I've ever received) as saying "the [Journal's] business model, [along] with the rising cost of newsprint and postal rates, has become a challenge to sustain." It is the same business model used by business journals all over the country, many of them successful. She did not mention advertising revenue, which decreased dramatically two years ago when The Times began making the decisions. The first seven months of 2008 were the best in BRBJ history, according to former GM Tom Field.

The Times’ announcement says the Journal’s final publication will be Jan. 29, 22 years--almost to the day--after the first was printed in early December of 1988. One employee position will be eliminated "through attrition," according to the press release (though the news story in the daily paper said the employee will be "laid off"), and the others folded back into The Times.

The announcement of the closing comes shortly after reporter Annie Johnson said in a note to friends and family that she was leaving the Journal for a job as economic development reporter with the Nashville Business Journal. Annie was actually with the Journal several years ago while still in college as freelance a Lynchburg reporter. She took a job with the daily paper after graduation, left for the Congressional Daily and returned to the Journal about a year ago.

The Times says it plans to “revamp” the Sunday business s section, launching the product Jan. 16. The announcement says some of the Business Journal’s features will be part of that revamping, including the business calendar and a feature called "One Question."

(Update: With the closing of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, the daily paper made some personnel changes: Megan Schnabel, former editor of the BJ, will edit a renovated Sunday business section; business writer Duncan Adams--one of the paper's best--moves to the Bedford-Botetourt beat vacated recently by Rex Bowman and editor Brian Kelly moves to a business reporting position.)


  1. As a former employee of the Times, I am not surprised at all. I left when I saw they weren't meeting the needs of area business with their absurd advertising rates and started which is still going strong and serving the region with 40-60,000 visitors a month. The Times has been out of touch with this region for a long, long time. Best wishes for your publication.

  2. I'm curious to know more about why Brian Kelley was demoted to reporter with this move. It's also worth noting that Duncan Adams is moving to the Botetourt/Bedford beat.

  3. Well, Dan my friend, you know I seldom read your posts, but since you and I worked together at the Blue Ridge Business Journal, I made an exception for this one. I have very fond memories of my 9 years there, including working with John Montgomery, Sam Lazarro, Deborah Vaughan, Jim Lindsey, Donna Earwood, and, yes, I admit it, you. The BRBJ was a fine publication and delivered relevant, timely news to its readers. I'm sorry for its demise but I'm not surprised. Continued success to you and Tom and Valley Business Front.

  4. You know, Leslie, what we had at the BJ was a family, which the daily newspaper doesn't even understand as a concept. As much as you and I differ on politics, we outwardly and for all to see like each other, respect each other and wish each other well. Neither of us would ever intentionally do anything to hurt the other. That separated us from the later owners. Thank you for reading me ... just this once. And please, Remember George Bush!

  5. Anon: Didn't know about Brian or Duncan, though Dunc is getting Rex Bowman's beat. Brian is one of the most decent people at the paper and when I'd write something praising a story by one of his reporters (which wasn't often), he'd send a thank-you note (even when the reporter didn't). He's the kind of guy who gets shit on, though, and I hate it. I have no idea if his move--which I only know of in this exchange--is a "demotion" or simply a way of covering continued staff loss. I would not assume the "demotion" if, indeed, he has been reassigned. But anything's possible.

  6. Yes, we're like brother and sister. And yes, George W is looking better and better. ;-)

  7. Just to be clear (especially to all the wonderful people and businesses who patronized the BRBJ over its 22 years), the demise of the publication had nothing to do with market economics, but everything to do with management.

    Look at the issues (page count and advertisers)and compare the dates. The product will tell its own story.

    A sad day. But its soul lives on. In an alternative that is more in the front position. The community has not been abandoned.