Editor’s Note: This biography of Stanley J. Modic appeared in the Press Club of Cleveland’s 2002 Journalism Hall of Fame program. It was written by John Sheridan, who worked with Modic for nearly 20 years at IndustryWeek magazine.
Writers and editors who’ve worked for Stanley J. Modic over the years will tell you he was a stickler for accuracy.
One afternoon during his 15-year tenure as editor of IndustryWeek, Modic poked his head into the office of a rookie news editor. Summoning a stern countenance, he instructed: “Remember, no errors!”
Modic’s orders were never taken lightly. So the greenhorn stayed at his desk past midnight, nervously re-checking each of the articles slated for the next news section.
Modic’s aversion to editorial slip-ups may have stemmed from an incident early in his career when he was city editor at the Painesville Telegraph.
“One year, I ran our annual blurb on the daylight savings time change a month too early,” he chuckles. “That Monday, I got a barrage of calls from angry readers. Some of them insisted that the paper reimburse them for the money they lost by showing up for work an hour late.”
The experience underscored the impact that a publication can have on its readers. And during his 42-year journalism career, most of it in the business press, Stan Modic constantly strived to make a positive impact, often by cajoling his management readers to come to grips with the waves of change buffeting their organizations.
“My basic philosophy,” he says, “was that, in the business press, you have a specialized audience. And your job is not only to inform and educate them, but also to try to lead them — and tune them into the new trends that may affect their businesses.
“When you’re a business magazine editor, you have a myriad of responsibilities. You don’t just write stories. You have to think ahead and lead your audience.”
After five years with the Telegraph, during which he rose quickly from cub reporter to city editor, Modic joined Penton Publishing’s Steel magazine in 1965 as an assistant editor.
Again he moved up rapidly, and in 1969, he was named executive editor. In that post, he was one of three editors charged with broadening the scope of the magazine — and its staff — when Steel became IndustryWeek.
The new publication, born in 1970, covered the entire manufacturing sector and focused heavily on management issues, treating business management as a profession. IW’s controlled-circulation base grew to 360,000, more than four times the readership of Steel.
Leading Thinkers. In 1972, Modic succeeded the legendary Walter Campbell as editor of IW. He assembled a group of leading thinkers — including Peter Drucker, Alvin Toffler, and Daniel Yankelovich — to contribute articles. In his columns, Modic prompted readers to motivate their employees for success, to speak up for the private enterprise system, and to respond to the challenge of stiffening global competition.
Foreign Reporters. When IndustryWeek was launched, the magazine lined up a string of international correspondents “because we wanted to give our readers a better fix on what was going on around the world,” Modic recalls.
As chief editor, Modic often prodded his staff members to expand their horizons and take on challenging assignments. And he made sure they got the support and resources they needed.
Study Mission. In the early 1970s, IW was one of the first U.S. publications to send an editor into China, shortly after President Nixon re-established relations with that country. In 1984, Stan visited China himself — taking along 20 of his executive readers on a study mission to explore both the potential of joint business ventures there and the competitive challenge that China might pose to American manufacturers.
Modic recalls that one of the people on that trip was an executive with a paper company who was startled to discover that Chinese peasants wiped themselves with dirt after going to the bathroom. “He said, ‘What a market for toilet paper — if only they had the money to pay for toilet paper!’”
In 1974, long before the end of the Cold War, Modic accompanied his Washington bureau chief to Moscow to cover the first U.S. machine tool exhibition in the USSR. While there, he wangled a meeting with the Russian Minister of Information. “The Russians had been using material from IndustryWeek without paying any royalties,” he recalls. By the time the meeting was over, he’d persuaded the minister to pay royalties to Penton.
“It wasn’t much,” Stan says, “but we got a few rubles out of them.”
In what may have been the hallmark achievement of his editorial activism, Modic organized and led a series of executive study missions to Japan to investigate the secrets of Japan’s manufacturing success.
Begun in 1972, the trips continued over the next decade — at a time when many feared the U.S. was losing its industrial competitive edge. The study missions gave IW’s executive readers entrance to Japanese companies and manufacturing facilities that they couldn’t have arranged on their own.
Awards of Excellence. Recognizing a need for corporate CEOs to become more proactive, in 1977 Stan launched IW’s “Excellence in Management” awards program, which honored CEOs who exhibited leadership in defending the private enterprise system, in breaking new ground in labor-management relationships, in improving understanding between business and government, and in serving their communities.
White House Meeting. In the early 1980s, he spearheaded an effort to stage a conference in Washington, sponsored with the White House, on corporate social responsibility — to explore ways that businesses might pick up the slack in the wake of government funding cutbacks.
Re-established press club
His activist role also extended to the journalism profession. In 1977, Modic was the driving force behind the resurrection of the Press Club of Cleveland, an organization which had been dormant for nearly a decade.
In the early stages of the revival effort, he arranged a meeting with former Press Club board members to seek their endorsement of a proposal to reactivate the club and affiliate with the multi-organization Communicators Club, giving the Cleveland media access to its facilities. When several participants expressed heavy skepticism about the prospects for success, Stan took the bull by the horns.
“There will be a new Press Club,” he asserted, “even if I’m the only one who joins!”
That turned the tide. The plan was approved. And Modic became the first president to head the club in its new era.
He is also a past president of the Cleveland chapter of Sigma Delta Chi — now SPJ, the Society of Professional Journalists — and led its scholarship fund-raising activities for many years.
Modic moves on
After nearly 25 years at Penton, Modic left in 1989 to join Huebcore Publishing in Solon, OH, as editor-in-chief of Purchasing World magazine. He subsequently served as publisher and editor-in-chief of Tooling & Production magazine, also published by Huebcore, which became Adams Business Media.
In January 2002, when Adams was sold to Nelson Purblishing Co., he retired as vice president of the firm’s five-magazine Manufacturing Group. But he continued as a senior editorial consultant and columnist for Tooling & Production.
Modic, whose editorials over the years have been widely quoted and reprinted, has won numerous editorial achievement awards — including the prestigious G.D. Crain award, presented annually to an outstanding editor by the American Business Press (now American Business Media), the trade association of the business publishing industry. He has also received ABP’s Jesse H. Neal Certificate of Merit and a Freedom Foundation award for editorial writing.
Long active with the Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Slovenian Club, including a term as president, Modic was named “Slovenian Man of the Year” in 1998 by the Cleveland Federation of Slovenian Homes. He and his wife, Poppy, live in Painesville, OH. They have two children, Mark and Laurel.
What Others Say
Stan was my first boss 45 years ago in newspapers. He was gruff and demanding. But no rookie could have asked for a better coach and mentor. Many “Stan-isms” of journalism have stuck with me over the years.
Over a long career, Stan Modic has made many significant contributions to B-to-B journalism.
But, Stan’s career didn’t start in B2B. It started on a 25,000 circulation newspaper in the Lake County city of Painesville, Ohio. The county seat paper was the paper of record.
Right about now, Stan is probably hoping that a case of amnesia will set in. No such luck. Stan was the city editor. He could have been the model for TV’s Lou Grant.
It was a Saturday morning and Stan was in charge of getting the paper out.
No problem, he’d done it countless times before. This time, however, he got his dates mixed up. The result: he published the time change a week early.
Page one, above the fold.
The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Some callers got down right nasty, wondering about the wild party the night before. Church and special family events and flights were missed. Readers were upset and let us know it, for a long time. A real long time.
Stan’s still looking for that amnesia attack to hit.
Every year an adjacent community had a festival around the Fourth of July.
It was a big deal, lots of people, floats, rides. And, yes, a Queen and her court.
Each year coverage was a challenge, finding some fresh, new perspective.
Stan decided to assign the main story of the Queen and her court to the newest member of the staff. The reporter was extremely bright. He was a Korean graduate student from a leading Midwest journalism school. Remember, English was not his first language. He dug in, he did extensive interviews with the Queen and her court, all high school students or recent graduates.
Everything was going fine. Nice photography, good quotes and an attractive layout. What could go wrong?
The reporter had referred to the Queen and her court as “Queen and her courtesans.” No, Stan, that’s not the plural for women of the Queen’s court.
Upset readers, and very angry parents of the “court,” made that quite clear to Stan. “How dare you call my daughter a woman of the night, a kept woman, a harlot.”
Everyone in the newsroom scurried to the big dictionaries to find some obscure fifth or sixth meaning of the word “courtesans” that we could use as our defense. No luck.
Vernon E. Henry
Corporate Editorial Director, Advanstar Communications
2001 ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
“Stan the Man” is the title we bestow on Stan Modic. By “The Man” we describe with admiration “Mr. Manufacturing.”
Stan joined the Nelson Publishing team on Tooling & Production when we purchased it five years ago. He is a man of outstanding integrity and talent.
Furthermore, he is an outstanding American who is a strong advocate for his country and does everything possible to foster its growth for future generations.
We at Nelson Publishing say, “God Bless America and ‘Stan the Man’.”
CEO, Nelson Publishing
Throughout his career Stan maintained an unrelenting focus on “his” readers, always trying to serve them better with some unique project or editorial feature. This approach, called “service journalism” by some, led him to create insightful editorial features, lead pioneering study trips for U.S. executives to Japan and Russia, and speak out boldly in his editorials — a tenor that continues to this day. Stan’s honest approach to “telling it like it is” has earned him long-term loyalty among readers, peers, and especially those of us lucky enough to have worked for him.
His clear vision and stubborn resistance to give up on a worthy goal can be seen in the 1977 renewal of the Press Club of Cleveland, which had been inactive for several years. The immediate goal was just to create a “paper” organization that would allow working journalists entry in a new downtown luncheon club, and some timid souls, including me, were urging a perfunctory reorganization. Stan would have none of it. He wanted a real Press Club that would grow and prosper, and he got it. Now, 29 years later, the Club is thriving, a strong contributor to Cleveland’s journalism community and an example of Stan’s many accomplishments.
Robert W. Gardner
Vice President — Public Relations
The Association For Manufacturing Technology
If ever there has been a lion in the American business press, it’s Stan Modic. As the boss of Tooling & Production, he could roar far more impressively than MGM’s big cat—signaling that something in the magazine wasn’t up to his standards or that he wanted his team to pursue the next great big idea. Stan always followed the Churchillian dictate of never giving in “except to convictions of honor and good sense,” and he made sure everyone working for him did as well.
That said, Stan has never traded on his imposing credentials with staffers, especially journalistic tenderfoots.
As a writer, an editor, a mentor, and a colleague, Stan Modic has established a new standard of excellence for the business press. Back in the ’60s, Stan recast his go-get-’em newspaper style for business-to-business journalism, and all of us in the craft are better for it today. Musial may claim the title “Stan the Man” in the world of baseball, but on our playing field there’s only guy who goes by that sobriquet—Stan Modic.
Joseph F. McKenna
Editor-in-Chief, Tooling & Production
Thank you for that most kind introduction.
I stand here humbled — for there is no greater honor than to have your work recognized by your peers. My first “Thank you” has to go to ASBPE, and to Joe McKenna, Tooling & Production editor, and his staff for nominating me.
As you know, editorial awards are seldom achieved without the help of many. Consequently I am indebted to many associates over the years at Steel, Industry Week, Purchasing World, and Tooling & Production who all made me look good and created this opportunity for me to be standing here tonight.
I won’t bore you with a litany of names, but I would be sinfully remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to recognize the support of my wife, Poppy, for the very large part she played in any success I may have achieved.
And then there is my first mentor, the legendary Walter Campbell, editor in chief of Steel magazine and the founding father of IndustryWeek.
It was he who showed me, by example and words, how to stand up for editorial rights in the business press.
I also have to mention the friendship and guidance of T. George Harris, editorial confidant, and a founding editor of Psychology Today.
In 1965, 41 years ago, I started toiling in the business press at Steel Magazine at Penton Publishing. I worked there for almost 25 years, 16 of them as IndustryWeek editor
At 49, a heart attack forced a career change. Subsequently I worked for another company that suffered through three ownership changes, primarily as editor and then editor/publisher and a vice president of Tooling & Production and the manufacturing division of Adams Business Media. I still write a monthly column for T&P, which is now owned by Nelson Publishing of Florida.
I started my career at the beginning of the end of the glory years of the business press. Back then our readers needed us as an information source much more than they do today. We were about the only current source of information they could depend on.
But things have changed.
Now there is the internet where companies tell their own stories via web sites. There are bloggers, cable TV shows dedicated to business issues and on-line newsletters.
Unfortunately the general press—especially bloggers and cable TV — jump on every bit of bad business news, using the sensationalism to attract viewers and readers to boost ad revenue.
A New York Times headline proclaimed last year “More news is not necessarily good news.” That is a fact that has become most apparent to me now that I’m retired and watching more cable news.
A Pew Research Center study last year confirmed it.
It found 66% of national journalists polled feel bottom line pressures are “seriously hurting quality and performance.”
45% of those polled believe the national media is full of factual errors; 40% even feel journalists let their ideology creep into their reporting.
What is worse, 25% feel that such biased reporting is OK.
There are those who say the printed word of business magazines is a thing of the past.
I believe just the opposite. With the explosion of new technologies in so many industries and the need to counter business bad-news sensationalism, the need for quality business publications to spread the good-news gospel and to keep readers up to date on rapidly changing technologies is more important than ever.
I ask you: what does a reader do when he/she finds a useful article on the web? They print a hard copy for the file.
For that’s what business journalism is all about—providing our readers with “News they can use.”
Unfortunately, there are those who don’t feel serving the reader is all that important; that editorial is simply fodder to separate the ads. I fear that in the ever intensifying race for the communications dollar, editorial will become even more of a bargaining chip.
It is our job to see that doesn’t happen.
It is the editor’s responsibility to insure that business magazines serve the reader first — for only in that way can we serve the advertiser best.
The ASBPE has updated its Code of Ethics. Now we have to insure that we live by it.
But providing information is only part of our job. Our responsibility includes not only speaking out “for” the best interest of our readers and the industry we serve; but just as importantly, we have to muster the courage to speak “to” our readers, critically, when the occasion calls for it.
There is no doubt we excel in the former. I’m not so sure about the latter.
We have to not only provide the news, but we have to lead our readers.
In this era when business scandals are making big news and the public’s thrust in business leadership is rapidly eroding, we must incite our readers to embrace a path of social responsibility in running their businesses.
We have to remind them that it is in their own best interest to do so; that only by conducting their businesses in a socially responsible way will we be able to preserve our private enterprise system—a system that has permitted the United States to create a way of life second to none.
We have to encourage, and even help them to get involved in the political process — in telling their business story both to the politicians and the public.
For there in lies the truly basic mission and challenge of the business press. I close with this question.
For if we of the business press do not to it, we who have the ear of the country’s business at the grass roots level, than who will do it?
The business press is more than an educational tool explaining technology. I has to become a leader. It has to tell the world it’s a leader.
Again, thank you for this lifelong memory.
And as a champion for our cause used to say, good night and good luck!