Eclectic Medill professor, writer, B2B editorial consultant

If there were a traditional path to the ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award, Abe Peck would rarely have walked along it.

Exalted as a professor since 1980 at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism until his decision to retire from full-time duties this year to Santa Barbara, he built up strong associations with B2B magazines.

He was the first Medill professor to hold an endowed chair (the Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills professorship) and the first to be awarded a second named chair, when he became the Helen Gurley Brown professor at the school. His other rare title: Chair of Journalism & Cross-Media Storytelling, with much of his work — also uncommon for a professor — geared toward promoting the idea that journalism and storytelling in B2B publications do go together.

ItÍs made him, as his boss, Medill Dean John Lavine, puts it, “a national treasure.”

But few would have predicted that outcome when, after a short stint in the Army Reserves, he adopted the nom de protest, “Abraham Yippie,” at the side of Abbie Hoffman and others now known to followers of ChicagoÍs 1968 Democratic National Convention as the Chicago Seven.

Photo of Abe Peck and Abbie Hoffman

 

Journalistically, he was involved with that city’s best-known underground newspaper, The Chicago Seed, before he began helping Jann Wenner shake up the media world at Rolling Stone. Then he dabbled with the somewhat more establishment Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News.

As a staff editor for the budding San Francisco-based culture magazine, he helped shape Rolling StoneÍs music coverage. But in writing, he answered to a distinctly eclectic muse. He ranged from delving into Working’s Stud Terkel, to the peculiarities of the budding drug accessory industry quaintly known as “paraphernalia.”

Giving a start to the ‘Terminator’?

Looking back at that period, however, some see his most significant contribution as casting the first serious magazine light on the personal transformation of a young body-builder known mainly among denizens of Santa Monica’s gyms and beaches.

Peck saw something unusual in the attempt of this mountainous figure to become Mr. Olympia for the seventh time. And the writer’s compelling Rolling Stone saga helped propel the career that led the muscleman to become one of the world’s most popular actors, the spouse of a beautiful Kennedy-family news reporter, and, most recently, California governor. In short, we may all owe Abe for the phenomenon known as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Look for Peck in the film “Pumping Iron.”

In some ways, Abe never quite left the ’60s and its special media creations. Thus, he is author of Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press. In that volume, he traces some of the beginnings of the alternative media movement to, of all publications, Mad magazine. And he has edited or contributed to nine other books, some of which touched on that theme. And he was a contributing writer to the history of the decade, Voices from the Underground, as well as The Eighties: A Look Back. Additionally, Peck wrote an 8,000-word feature for Crain’s Chicago Business on the 20th anniversary of the 1968 Democratic Convention.

An academic voice for B2B publications

So what’s he done to earn a place with ASBPE’s distinguished list of business publication legends? Plenty.

In his 28 years at Northwestern, he has directed Medill’s magazine program, and worked with the school’s prestigious Media Management Center and its cutting-edge New Digital/ Publishing Projects. Those efforts brought to academia and the student population an understanding and enthusiasm for B2B magazines that is truly unusual and exemplary. His students have created more than 30 prototypes under his tutelage — many of them business publications.

His publishing workshops have been conducted across the U.S. and in Ecuador, England, Finland, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. And he’s been an especially valued consultant to Advanstar Communications in the U.S. and England, helping with its editorial audits alongside another ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Advanstar editorial director Vernon Henry. And he has served in consulting roles for B2B publishers including Crain, Lebhar-Friedman, Vance, Putman, and Global Sources.

His journalism judging has extended to the National Magazine Awards and the Jesse H. Neal Awards. His associations with ASBPE trace back to the 1980s. He has attended several ASBPE Azbee Awards of Excellence banquets, introducing previous honoree Stan Modic in 2006, and supporting his colleague Henry for the award in 2001, and former student, Stephen Barr Award winner Shabnam Mogharabi, in 2007.

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s magazine division named him Educator of the Year in 2004, and in 2006, the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame enshrined the man who, 35 years earlier, had been a protestor choking on tear gas in the city’s Lincoln Park.

This is retirement?

Medill Dean Lavine notes that Peck has been one of his most trusted advisors, especially in the school reform strategy known as Medill 2020. Not surprisingly, for someone active in the “ counterculture,” Peck is also the one who regularly tells the dean “when he thinks we’ve made a wrong decision or should change a plan that is under consideration.”

As Peck and his wife Suzanne move to California, he will be special counselor to the dean and help develop B2B media and the school’s New Digital/ Publishing Projects. They will continue offering magazine seminars and his wife’s specialty, diversity, at the Media Management Center, with Peck also representing the Center in China and India.

Peck’s editorial performance reviews will continue with Advanstar, as will his lecturing in China and Hong Kong with his Asia consulting partner, Don Brown, the former publisher of Time Asia.

If there ever was a character nimble enough to give advice to publications adjusting to the rapid-fire technological, financial, and artistic environment, that character is ASBPE’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Abe Peck.

— Roy Harris, ASBPE Immediate Past President

What People Say About Abe Peck

“When you travel with Abe (for me, it has been 12 years, now) one thing is certain: no matter where you go, chances are you’ll run into a student or former student of his. I’m always amazed at the many lives that Abe has touched in such positive ways. One example particularly stands out to me. Abe told me of returning a student’s paper a while back that was laced with a lot of tiny errors. It looked as if the paper was bleeding red ink. He told the student that he had talent but, ’you have to work on the small things just as much as the big ideas.’ He told the student to write him in ten years about how he was doing and ’we can have a “Goodbye Mr. Chips” moment, but it’s not going to happen if you don’t pay more attention to the details.’

“Sure enough, some 15 years later the former student wrote Abe: ‘Well, it took me a little longer than ten years to get back to you, but those words meant more to me than you can know.’ The former student has been successful with cover stories in New York magazine and The New York Times Magazine.

“Abe responded to his former student, ‘ …I can’t thank you enough for your note. I work on 25 magazines a year and judge more, but a note like yours is the ultimate accolade and compensation.’

“Like Mr. Chips, the beloved teacher who guided generations of students, Abe genuinely cares for those he’s taught. He instills in them a respect for the craft of journalism in what becomes an ongoing education and life-long friendship.”

Vernon E. Henry
Corporate Editorial Director
Advanstar Communications
ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001

“In a recent class, a student jokingly said ‘We’ve never been invited to the Oprah Book Club.’ Abe was sitting in back of the room, computer on lap, typing, presumably engrossed in answering e-mails. He piped up … ‘Speak for yourself!’

“That’s Abe. Witty, original, multi-tasking, thinking, listening … always in motion.

“Working with Abe is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I have been very fortunate to have that privilege for twelve years. I thank you, Abe.
Here’s to the next life achievements you have on your ‘to do’ list.”

Queenie Burns, VP, design & production
Marketing & Technology Group

“Abe Peck was hired to be a staff editor, and in the mid-1970s he was instrumental in guiding Rolling Stone’s music section through a difficult transition period.

“But I prefer to remember Abe for his writing contributions. We’ve always prized eclecticism at Rolling Stone, and he was most certainly that. He did a cover piece on the Village People, as you know. He also reported on the future Governor of California’s quest for a seventh ‘Mr. Olympia’ title and examined Studs Terkel’s remarkable career.

“Then there was the time we sent Abe to a paraphernalia show in New York City. Paraphernalia — in case you’ve forgotten — consisted of legal products used to consume illegal substances. Abe was so taken by a 52-page, four-color catalog from an outfit called Adam’s Apple that he was inspired to pen a ditty based very loosely on ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ from the great musical South Pacific.

“With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, it went like this:

It’s got papers, it’s got bongs
It’s got chillums, it’s got masks
It’s got pipes made of acrylic, and wood
and glass and brass
It’s got spoons, stashes and snorters,
And testing kits for coke
What ain’t it got? It ain’t got dope!

“Throughout his remarkable 28-year career at Northwestern University, Abe remained a member of the Rolling Stone family, staying in touch with our own far-flung alumni and frequently visiting our New York offices. He also gave a number of our editors a chance to guest lecture his students at the Medill School of Journalism, where he literally built a magazine curriculum from the ground up.

“So I can only close with a deep bow of gratitude and affection, and say: ‘Well done, Abe.’”

Jann Wenner
Editor and Publisher
Rolling Stone

“How do you capture a man forever in motion? Maestro of the Muse, Swami of the ’60s, Sultan of Schmooze, Abe Peck has tightly woven 28 years of mentorship into a worldwide web of relationships.

“Like Jacob, Abe sired a global tribe of writers, editors and literati that now dots the media landscape, from the corner offices of Conde Nast to the basement bureaus of aspiring novelists, screenwriters and bloggers.

“Although far flung, an entire generation of “Abe’s children” today shares a common language, perspective and unyielding commitment to the written word. With humor, wit and boundless energy, Abe has been our personal sherpa on a great adventure that now extends far beyond the printed page.

“And while some of his contemporaries now settle into the comfortable cushions of past accomplishments, Abe is now venturing out to explore the frontier of the new media landscape.

“I, for one, am eager to see where this next excursion leads.

“Those of us left behind will eagerly await his dispatches. To quote Abe’s perennial voice mail message: ‘Until then, bye bye.’ ”

Bill McDowell
Vice President, Editorial
Marketing & Technology Group
Chicago

“Great advances in social change are often stirred and galvanized by the courageous independent voice of one individual. Abe Peck has contributed to a great human tradition his entire adult life. In 1968 he was the editor of the Chicago Seed, inspiring me and so many others with his words of encouragement and courage of conviction. From a single seed planted in Chicago decades ago, the legacy, vision and dedication of Abe Peck has emerged for all to see. Thank you for inviting me to add my support for your choice of Abe Peck for the 2008 Life Time Achievement Award.

Rennie Davis
President, Foundation for a New Humanity
Chicago 7

“The day I was offered a job that required me to move from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., Abe Peck was one of the first people I called — he came right after my mom and my best friend. This was not unusual for me. I have consulted with Abe on nearly every career move I have ever made. What do you think of this company? Is this a good opportunity? What salary is suitable? Am I making the right decision? Do you know someone at the company who might talk to me about the work environment?

“My questions were many, and his answers were always welcome. Abe’s advice is practical, wise, and above all, selfless. In his tenure at Northwestern University, Abe has helped hundreds of students like me navigate the challenging, competitive world of media. He helped shape NU’s Medill School of Journalism into what it is today — one of the country’s best journalism institutions. What’s more, Abe believes in the power of magazines. In fact, without him, the school would have no magazine publishing project — a program that has spawned some of the most talented and successful magazine writers and editors in this country.

“While most J-schools scoff trade journalism, Abe touted its benefits and encouraged young, driven journalists to take the skills and ideas they learned about the news industry and change the stigmas associated with B2B publishing. Yet he also let students decide for themselves where their interests lay. He was there to guide his students towards the paths that best complement their skills and also help them achieve their goals. And to do so, he will put you in touch with just about anybody in the industry — a classmate at Medill once said that Abe’s rolodex was ‘J-school–grad gold.’

“Abe got his start as a reporter at Rolling Stone, and I think no era suits Abe better than the rock ’n’ roll times of the 1960s and 1970s. He is passionate and energetic, fiercely intelligent, and always ready for a good time. In fact, if you’re up for a treat, add the film “Pumping Iron” to your Netflix list. It’s a documentary on body building feature Arnold Schwarzenegger and (you guessed it) Abe Peck as a Rolling Stone reporter.”

Shabnam Mogharabi
Editor-in-chief
Multifamily Executive
Developer

Hanley Wood Business Media

“Abe comes as close as any professor can to being a ‘national treasure.’ He has been a major influence on magazines across the globe and on a multitude of students, faculty and administrators at Northwestern. …

“For me, Abe has also been a trusted adviser. He’s been consistent and vocal in his support of Medill 2020; at the same time he regularly tells me when he thinks we’ve made a wrong decision or should change a plan that is under consideration. Beyond his new formal activities, I look forward to Abe continuing his constructive and helpful input and to him bringing all of us new ideas from his expanded industry involvement both here and abroad. … For me having Abe as a friend and colleague has enriched every day I’ve spent at Northwestern.”

John Lavine
Dean
Medill School of Journalism
Northwestern University