All Those Years Ago

Memories from the birth of a magazine.
All Those Years Ago
(L to R) Gary Johnson, Brian Anderson, and Burt Cohen

It’s 1993. My partners, Burt Cohen and Brian Anderson, and I had just bought our company back the year prior, after selling it in 1989 to an overextended investor. He was buying up media properties left and right, managing to secure a lot of easy cash from freewheeling, eager lenders who apparently didn’t care if he personally guaranteed the loans or not. It got a little too crazy. We decided to split the pop stand, buy the company back, and get ready for our next publishing adventure.

Those were the days. The brand-spanking-new Clinton White House was still scandal-free. The World Wide Web was still only a gleam in geeks’ eyes. Amazon and Google didn’t exist. Eastern Europe was fragmenting after the Soviet collapse. Pre-capitalist China was still struggling with its Maoist roots. Sleepless in Seattle and Jurassic Park led the box office. Michael Jackson played the Super Bowl and was accused of child molestation. Letterman’s Late Show debuted. Arne Carlson was governor. Jim McMahon (“I’m too drunk, you got me.”) was the Vikings’ quarterback, Kirby Puckett was the All-Star Game MVP, and Dave Winfield got his 3,000th hit.

Oh, and local business news coverage absolutely sucked.

Looking back, it all seems so innocent. As my brother, a longtime Republican operative in Washington, D.C., once said to me, not knowing he was quoting a line from a memoir on lesbian history, “Your problem is you don’t have any problems.” Compared to the zeitgeist we’re all swirling around these days, the same could be said of the world in 1993.

The Star Tribune basically owned business news then. There were a couple of local business rags–Corporate Report Minnesota, which acted as though small businesses didn’t exist, and the weekly Minneapolis St. Paul CitiBusiness, which was mostly irrelevant. Worst of all, business writers despised their subject. “Gotcha” moments were frequent, negative reporting alienated business owners, and readers were yearning for insights that would make them smarter and more successful. National business magazines like Forbes seemed to be getting it right. Indeed they billed themselves rightly as the “Capitalist Tool,” a positioning that made sense to us.

Our towns were loaded with savvy risk-takers–entrepreneurs, players, and cultural icons who wielded tremendous influence (many of them profiled in the upcoming pages). Reading the newspapers and local weeklies, you’d never know just how vital and intriguing these folks were. We decided to join the risk-takers and shoot for becoming the channel to and for this fascinating crowd. We jumped out of the box with Twin Cities Business Monthly, a high-energy magazine sporting oversized pages, bold headlines, and big images. We mixed in solid writing, opinionated columnists, and expert analysis with an intravenous line to the creativity, smart moves, and insights the business community willingly shared with us every month.

Flash forward 25 years. Not to get all Ecclesiastes on you, but in many ways there’s nothing new under the sun. The business community remains a hotbed of talent, skill sets, and characters, with great stories and experiences to share. And we’re still running after them and reporting back to you.

So cheers to our next 25! We’re excited, still. Thank you for being there and here.

—Gary Johnson,
President, MSP Communications