Up Front: December 2005

It was 20 years ago today

As my son, the publisher, wrote in this space last month, Business North Carolina has embarked upon its 25th year and will celebrate its silver anniversary next October. This December marks another milestone, for me at least: 20 years I’ve been working here. Looking back, this 20 went a lot faster than the one before it, but maybe that’s just how it feels to be 56. I don’t want to think about the next 20. Haste makes waste keeps springing to mind.

Despite the span of two decades and all the changes it has brought, one thing has stayed constant, and that’s this magazine — not what it looks like or how it’s produced or the business climate of the state it covers, but how, and why, we do what we do. In his piece for the magazine’s 15th anniversary nearly 10 years ago, Wake Forest journalism professor and longtime New York Timesman Wayne King described the last cover story Whit Shaw — BNC’s founder — wrote for it, back in the summer of 1986.

“Strictly speaking, the profile of C.D. Spangler Jr., the businessman-turned-UNC president, was an education story. But that dramatized what had by now become a key tenet of the magazine’s editorial algorithm: the broadest possible definition of ‘business story.’ Too, the piece told the university’s story by telling the story of a human being instead of subordinating flesh and blood to bricks and mortar or dollars and cents, though the unmistakable odor of lucre wafts over the piece, as it does in most of the magazine’s fare.”

And that is still what we try to do. Read Ed Martin’s piece about Duke Energy or the articles on our Small Business of the Year winner and runners-up in this issue. To think that the story of business in North Carolina can be told without trying to understand the people who breathe life into them is to believe ledgers flap their pages and fly about on their own accord. That’s what has made this job so compelling and so appealing for so long.

For many, if not most, who ply the journalist’s trade, it’s a vagabond’s life, working one place, then another. That was the way it was for me — five years the longest I lasted at any job before growing restless and moving on. That I would stay with any publication, much less wind up owning it, is something I could not have imagined back then.

The only way I can sum up the last 20 years is to quote a source you don’t usually see in a business magazine — the Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” May it only grow longer still.