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Business news to lose.

Through the years, some notable products have originated in South Bend and Elkhart. Studebakers, recreational vehicles, automotive brakes, Alka-Seltzer, sewing machines and myriad other goods have etched the cities into the minds of many Americans.

What most outsiders don't realize, though, is that the area was, if only briefly, one of the most crowded business journalism markets in the United States.

South Bend and Elkhart?

Believe it. At one point, three weekly tabloids and two monthly magazines catered to the business community of these neighboring northern Indiana cities. Today, two weeklies and one magazine survive.

What prompted such interest in the business press? "For one thing, I think this is a fast-growing market," notes Phil Vitale, editor of Tribune Business Weekly. "There have been lots of strong, positive indicators coming out of here--like reasonable housing costs, employment growth, that sort of thing."

So, during the spring, summer and early fall of 1990, readers in the area were treated to a traffic jam of five local business publications. Here's a brief scorecard of the rise and eventual shaking out of the lot, in the order that they hit the presses:


Business People, which started life in September 1988 as Business Digest, was the first commerce-oriented publication in the area. It was transplant from Kalamazoo, Mich. The publishers of a business magazine of the same name there decided South Bend was a fertile new market for such a venture. Lisa Panzica was transferred from the Michigan operation to head up the new South Bend magazine.

"It was pretty tough going for a while when we first started," says Panzica. "It was a new concept and peole weren't sure there was enough business news to fill a magazine."

But there was enough. And a second monthly magazine appeared on the scene just weeks later. During the spring of '90, Digest changed its name to Business People, and Panzica left to join the staff of the new Tribune Business Weekly that was tooling up in South Bend. The magazine underwent a ownership change and eventually closed up shop that fall.



Michiana Executive Journal opened up the same month in 1988 as Business Digest did. "They forced our hand by many months," says Rick Singleton, head of Business to Business Publications, which owns MEJ. "We had planned a new, regional consumer or business magazine, but were probably two years away from start-up."

When Digest announced plans to open up, Singleton's crew had to move fast. "We had about 45 days to become publishers, editors and journalists," he notes. "Fortunately, our other in-house business operations in photography, typesetting and graphics made a big difference in our initial success."

Today, Michiana Executive Journal has a paid circulation of 15,000. "Readership studies show that our pass-along circulation is six or more readers per copy," Singleton says. "We're pretty proud of that--and with the quality of our audience." The magazine is planning to add some special issues during the coming year, and is looking at expanding into other markets.


The Truth Business Report was the first weekly business tabloid to begin publishing in the area when it opened in March 1990. Distributed in every Tuesday edition of The Elkhart Truth, it boasts a circulation of 29,000 with another 3,000 copies mailed to a bonus list of selected business owners and officers in the region, and many out of the region.

"We had been exploring the possibility of doing specialty publications for several years," says Tony Biggs, Truth publisher. "The business climate was good, so we felt the chances of success were good." Biggs' thinking also was spurred by the announcement earlier that two other competitive business weeklies were planning to open up in the area. "We beat them by about six weeks," he adds.

Reader and advertiser response was excellent. Even in a softening economy late in 1990 and into this year, TBR has done well, according to Biggs. "We're absolutely delighted with the results--we just wish we'd done it sooner," he concludes.



Michiana Business Journal was the second weekly to enter the market, beginning publication in April 1990. It was the effort of Home News Enterprises, a newspaper publisher and commercial printer based downstate in Columbus.

"We looked at several markets, both inside and outside Indiana," says Jeff Brown, vice president of administration at Home News. "We were interested in starting a weekly, 'hard news' business publication to complement our five other Indiana newspaper. We saw a vacuum in the South Bend/Elkhart area, since it was being served by only two competing monthly magazines at the time we did our market research. We felt the region could support a weekly business publication and that we could fill an important niche here."

Michiana Business Journal took a little more than six months to establish operations, enough time for the other two business weeklies to enter the picture. The tabloid's start-up consisted of training a 14-person staff, learning new composition equipment, dealing with postal regulations and spending a large amount of time and money on design. "The staff initially didn't know a lot about putting out a weekly publication, let alone a business publication," Brown says.

The first issue appeared April 13, 1990. The final issue appeared February 1, 1991. "It boiled down to an economic decision," Brown laments. "Eventually, we began to see that the Journal could never return what we had put into it over the long term."

Competition from the Tribune Business Weekly, initiated by the South Bend Tribune, and tough economic times spelled doom for the young tabloid. "We knew what we were getting into, and we thought it would turn around quickly, but it never did," Brown says.


"In our case, we felt it in our best interest to take someone else's good idea and capitalize on it," Vitale says of his Tribune Business Weekly. "We had been considering starting a weekly business vehicle, but Michiana Business Journal's announcement pushed us to do it in a very timely fashion."

Due to previous experience in publishing weekly newspapers, TBW was able to move fast. Vitale simply adapted and improved systems that were already in place from his experience at starting a weekly newspaper in southwestern Michigan a few years earlier.

The decision to start the TBW was made in January 1990, shortly after Michiana Business Journal made its intentions known. The first issue hit the streets the following April 16, three days after Michiana Business Journal began publishing.

The shakeout of business publications was inevitable, according to Vitale. "Yes, this is a very strong and viable market for new publishing ventures, but five specialty publications in any market would be stretching the limits of reality of what could be supported," he says.

Publishers and editors in the South Bend/Elkhart business publication market, both winners and losers, agree that the current configuration of two weeklies and one monthly is here to stay. As Singleton puts it: "We've cracked the nut. We're growing. It's been interesting, and we're having a hell of a good time doing it."
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Title Annotation:northern Indiana business publications
Author:Petbe, Gary
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Economic development around the state: an update for northwest Indiana, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Indianapolis and Evansville.
Next Article:City spotlight: Warsaw.

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