Monday is my birthday. It’s not one of the big, round numbers — I’m 58 — but it is my first since my mother died in February, and these firsts are still a little tender. It was also this time of year in 1999 that Jeff Hankins, then the publisher of Arkansas Business, made one more attempt to recruit me back home to take this job. So it was 20 years ago this month that I swallowed my fears — mainly of failing spectacularly, but also of uprooting my young family — and gave notice to my boss at the Nashville (Tennessee) Bar Association.
I share my birth date — day and year — with Toby Keith, the country music artist whose clever lyrics are distinctly at odds with the drivin’-my-pickup monotony that tops the country charts today. He was one of the hottest acts in Nashville when we were wrapping up our decade there. A few months after I arrived at Arkansas Business, he came out with a massive hit called “How Do You Like Me Now?,” and his tale of proving himself to his high school crush resonated with me as I tried to prove my worth in a town where, as my husband observed, every Friday night was a high school reunion.
This is an Opinion
I’ve been thinking of those days a lot lately, because I quickly learned how little I knew about the job I had just taken on. I had reported on government and education in Arkansas and business in Nashville, but I knew next to nothing about business in Arkansas. I stumbled blindly through the first few months, thanks to a patient publisher and reporters who knew far more than I did, wondering what I was thinking when I accepted Hankins’ job offer. Toby Keith has another fitting lyric: “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
Twenty years later, the reverse is true. There are things I know now that would have been very helpful to know then. Foremost among them: how the internet would change every facet of our lives.
I was an early adopter; I still have friends all around the country that I met on the old Prodigy bulletin board in 1992, and I built the Nashville Bar Association’s first rudimentary website (a fact that blew my son’s mind when I mentioned it a few months back). But in 1999, I still thought the internet was a great way to bridge geographic distances — to meet interesting people, to buy products not available locally and to get news and information from distant news organizations.
Yet it never crossed my mind that people would use the internet to get local news from local newspapers — why would they? If they want local news, they subscribe to the local newspaper, right? My mind was about to be expanded. In 2000, we launched ArkansasBusiness.com and began delivering daily news by email, and by the end of 2019, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will use the internet as its sole delivery method six days a week.
Twenty years ago, I had no idea that the business news niche — then just hoping (as Jeff Hankins used to say) to catch the crumbs that fell from the daily newspapers — would be the healthiest niche in the local news industry, or that daily newspapers would face an existential crisis because most advertising dollars would ultimately flow to Google (then an obscure startup) and Facebook (whose founder was then 15 years old).
In the summer of 2000, I attended the annual conference of the Alliance of Area Business Publishers in Kansas City, and it was as if someone turned on all the lights. I met dozens of people who were editing similar publications in other markets, and AABP became a combination teaching laboratory and therapy group.
Since then, I’ve missed only one summer conference, and for the past five years I’ve also served on the board of directors. In Atlanta late last month, I was installed as president of the AABP, something that still freaks me out. I’m not the first editor to chair this organization, but most of the presidents have been publishers, many of them owners. To have their trust is flattering and frightening, but I feel as ill-equipped for this title as I did to be editor of Arkansas Business in 1999.
Now that I read over this column, it seems to be less about Toby Keith’s “I Wish I Didn’t Know Now” and more about his greatest song ever: “I Wanna Talk About Me.” Sorry about that.
Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.