A Good Man to Know

Early in Citzen Kane, Wall Street baron Walter Thatcher rolls his eyes when his financial ward, Charles Foster Kane, instructs him not to sell the New York Examiner, a struggling back-marker of a daily – because, in Kane’s work, “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”

Mr. Kane, meet the world of 2009. It ain’t fun anymore.

The demise of the U.S. newspaper trade gets the most attention, but times are tough as well for business-to-business or (B2B) publications, which is the fancy term for trade magazines. The news hasn’t been bright, as exemplified by this. Or this. Or this. Or the lightened loads of postal-person delivery, as magazines – including Stone Business – cut pages as revenues fall.

Sometimes, those cuts aren’t enough. Instead, the mailbox gets emptier as magazines stop the presses. It happened in the stone trade last month, with the announcement that Stone Industry News would suspend publication. Suspension is one of those words that crop up more and more – such as retooling, co-locate or strategic redeployment – that often put a different spin on bad news.

In the case of Stone Industry News, I’d like to think that this is just a rough patch, and a new issue will appear on my desk before the year’s out. I also know that I’m probably whistling a merry tune to the tombstones, but I can still hope.

You think it’s odd that someone would be wishing a competitor back into the fray, competing for news and advertising? Obviously, you haven’t met Francis Heck.

Francis, the publisher of Stone Business News, wasn’t the first person I met in the trade. It didn’t take too long in the trouping of trade-show aisles before we started seeing each other and jawing about the current state of affairs in the industry. He didn’t lack for opinions, and many of them made me laugh. All of them, though were on the mark.

Stone Industry News mixed current news releases, tips of the trade and a fair amount of down-home humor. When a controversy brewed in the industry, he let all sides let fly and let readers separate the steam from the substance

It also featured a monthly Page 2 editorial that drew from Francis’ decades in the trade, his innate common sense and an unqualified love of his country and his spouse, Lola. In a word, it was honest, and I enjoyed reading it every month.

I also enjoyed meeting Francis at trade shows. Our booths always seemed to be in close proximity, and we swapped more than the latest tales of the industry. On occasion, you’d find Francis stocking the Stone Business stand with more magazines, and I’d make sure plenty of issues of Stone Industry News filled his display.

Francis also knew the importance of finding the closest lounge after show hours, where you’d relax with a drink. This bit of Old School trade-show behavior seems to be distained by a new generation of people scurrying to meetings and receptions and tense business dinners, but the old-timers like Francis (and, more and more, myself) knew that plenty of business goes down when people put up their feet. More importantly, you made good friends this way, and Francis had the knack to always make another one.

I count myself among them. It makes me want to find another missive from Stone Industry News in the mail, so I can grumble over an ad we didn’t get and agree with another bit of Francis and his Page 2 wisdom. Hopefully, I’ll see another one and see Francis at more trade shows, as there’s more whiskey to be sipped and stories to be told.

And that would be fun.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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