Of humble beginnings
And so it has now been 30 years since we launched the Journal.February 11th, 2016
Publisher’s Note: This is one of a collection of stories authored by business and civic leaders in Spokane in commemoration of the Journal’s 30th Anniversary in February 2016. Please click here or on the “Anniversary Issue” tag at the bottom of this story to read the others.
And so it has now been 30 years since we launched the Journal. The thought makes me smile as I look across my office to a simple plaque on the wall celebrating my first five years at the paper, given to me a quarter century ago. I say that partly in apology, because to truly reminisce about our humble beginnings, now mere distant memories, I must rely on my resurrected writings of anniversaries past.
So for our most loyal readers, many of these words will be familiar. They still, in my mind, best paint the picture of how a new publication beat the odds to survive in a difficult industry.
It was a chilly Saturday morning in early February 1986, and all six staffers of the Journal of Business were scrubbing the dingy walls and windows of the inauspicious office space that would become our upstart newspaper’s first home, in an old warehouse building along Division Street near Sprague Avenue.
We had nothing. No office equipment. No furniture. No stationery or business cards.
We did have desire—manifested that morning with each stroke of a dirty sponge, and in the 30 years to follow, with each stroke of the pen, whether on a news story or an advertising contract.
Our first issue was nearly to press that February morning, orchestrated from our homes and pulled together in the back room of a commercial printer that had trustingly given us credit.
I remember vividly the morning after that 28-page premier issue miraculously went to press. Our office space seemed dauntingly bare. A single working telephone sat on the carpet, and in a corner stood a handful of secondhand chairs left by an office supply store that had vacated the building. Skeptical of the startup’s financial depth, I bought myself an inexpensive desk and placed atop its imitation-oak surface an Osborne computer I had brought from home. After all, there was little time to waste. We had another paper to get out.
So went the early days of the Journal of Business.
Our sales “department” consisted of four people, headed by co-founder Scott Crytser, and our news team amounted to Editor and co-founder Norman Thorpe and me. We also lassoed a gifted artist seemingly on his way out of town, and managed to detain him as our contract graphic artist.
We often would run staff-written stories in our paper without bylines, embarrassed that we had only two staff bylines we could print. Every ad sale, meanwhile, was meritorious. No one knew of the Journal of Business, and only the bold were willing to risk their ad budgets on an unproven publication during unsettling economic times. The sales team would ring a small bell, placed strategically in the middle of our office, each time an advertisement was sold. Its chime was music to our ears. We still have that bell today.
In those early days, as we made our mistakes and the paper struggled to make payroll, we were amazed at the support we received. Spokane was embracing us as its own, and our confidence grew. Letters began arriving from business, civic and government leaders, all congratulating our venture. Advertisers told us customers were mentioning our name. We knew we had something going, and it turned out we would be fortunate enough to ride numerous ups and downs in the Spokane economy for the next three decades.
The Journal has been more successful than any of us dreamed back then. It’s a much bigger enterprise today and became a subsidiary of Cowles Co. about 21 years ago, when founders Crytser and Thorpe sold the paper to pursue other interests.
In recent years, our industry has been turned on its head, as publications fight for the attention of readers bombarded with information from too many sources. Yet we have thrived, seeking to provide content not easily found elsewhere and amassing a readership coveted by many.
Perhaps the biggest change over the years has been our presence here. It’s a rare occurrence now when we have to explain to someone locally what the Journal is. Top executives and managers welcome us into their offices and factories. Advertisers support us with their pocketbooks, as do our loyal readers. This more than anything is why I still love to come to work, about 10,950 days after that first Saturday spent cleaning up the Journal’s first humble home.
On behalf of our staff, both past and present, I’d like to thank you all for that. It will be our privilege during the decades ahead to retain the trust you have placed in us.
Paul Read is publisher of the Journal of Business.