Up Front: February 2011

Believe it

Once again, the Business Handbook issue features our annual ranking of the state’s largest employers. Pick up almost any magazine these days and, somewhere inside, you’ll find a list — best or worst this or that, top or bottom something or another, as measured by a staggering array of criteria and rating systems. Measured by their popularity with readers and the news coverage they get in other media, they’re popular pieces of information.

Magazines, including this one, publish rankings of hospitals, doctors, lawyers and companies. A month doesn’t go by without BNC having some kind of list, and when we publish some of our annual ones, we see an increase in sales and requests for extra copies and for links to our website from those listed. It’s not just our readers who see this content as important and relevant.

That’s something I keep reminding myself of when I hear all the talk about the “death of print” and how new technology and social media are taking over like the master computer in The Matrix. (It’s usually on some sort of blog or Web posting that I read this.) While I agree that social media is a useful tool in our communications kit and a great way to help us get the word out about what we’re doing, our magazine offers something most social media lacks: credibility. The YouTube video of the chimpanzee smoking is funny, but if he moderated a panel to discuss the financial crisis’ impact on Charlotte featuring his fellow nicotine fiend, the chain-smoking Indonesian toddler, and members of the boogie-down-the-aisle wedding party, it wouldn’t be credible, no matter how many million visits it racks up.

Business North Carolina has spent nearly 30 years building its reputation the hard way, reporting the facts, digging deep to get them, writing in-depth stories that go beyond the news, providing comprehensive analysis and packaging it all in a way that appeals to both the eye and intellect. This is why magazines still matter, and this one, regardless of how the medium might change, will continue to make sure it does for decades to come.

One of the challenges a business magazine faces is that, it must run stories about some of the same companies it depends on for advertising. And if a magazine is to stay credible, if what it publishes is an accurate reflection of reality, sometimes those stories are not going to make its customers happy. Long ago, BNC figured this out: Its readers, the state’s top business leaders and political decision makers, are smart people. They want facts, not fluff, and they know the difference. That’s why they read the magazine. And because they read it — and trust what they read — businesses advertise in it. Credibility is the key.

From 2001 through 2008 and for one issue in 2010, Red Hand Media LLC, the company that owns BNC, published a 16-page semi-annual magazine for the Piedmont Triad Partnership. That relationship never affected how we covered the partnership or the region. Nor did it color Ed Martin’s story on the seven regional economic-development partnerships in this issue. Fifteen years ago, in our Business Handbook issue, we asked this question in a cover story: Has regionalism diminished North Carolina’s value as a brand name? Now we’re posing another: After all this time and all this money, has the investment been worth it? Read the story that begins on page 56, and then you decide.