2 min read

Old-time trade journalism

I'll admit to having a soft spot for "The Waterways Journal." I've been reading it for decades now, starting when I was a young transportation reporter for the "Journal of Commerce." The WJ has its flaws -- it runs ads on the front page, tends to be such a cheerleader for the industry it covers (inland barges) that it reads more like a press release than a magazine, and it has the ugliest layout of any publication in my mailbox. But WJ has a relationship with its readers -- and with the rivers on which those readers make their living -- that any trade publisher should envy. The WJ has been publishing since 1887, writing about the folks who move freight along the waterways. And in the process, WJ has turned trade journalism into something akin to folk art. Each issue features a look at days long gone through photos of paddlewheelers and early steamers. There's a section each week on what WJ wrote about in the past (100 years ago this week the magazine reported on what was believed to be the first collision in history between a boat and a train! The train hit an elevated stage plank of the Reese Lee as it moved through a canal.)
But soft spot or not, I was furious when I read this week's edition of WJ. In an article on page 4, the WJ announced the retirement of William Evans Jr. who has been WJ's reporter on the Gulf Coast for more than 25 years. I have vague memories of meeting Bill at an event or two, and I remember him as a likeable man. But in the article about his retirement it says "While covering river news, Evans also actively represented the business side of The Waterways Journal, selling advertising..."
Selling advertising! While covering the news!
Now there may not be much I can do to convince folks at WJ that such activity is simply and utterly unethical. I'd guess that they aren't embarrassed by what they have done. But I did want to take a moment to tell people at WJ that I and other B2B journalists around the country are embarrased for you.
Full disclosure: Many of WJ's journalists have been covering transportation for most of their lives. Carlo Salzano, who writes about federal regulation of the rivers, was one of my first bosses in the business. He was an editor at Traffic World magazine, which also covered the freight industry, when I was a reporter there in the early 1980s. I haven't spoken to him in more than 15 years, but I'd be willing to bet good money that Carlo has never sold an ad in his life.

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