Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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The path we followed

It seems like only last month, but it was more than a decade ago that we sat down in our conference room to hear a presentation by celebrity researcher Frank Luntz.

He had come to us as a legend with excellent credentials, having previously conducted some prized analysis for Steve Wynn and Newt Gingrich, among others. His time was not inexpensive, and so we were plenty ready to absorb any insights.

A few months earlier, we had commissioned Luntz to give us his take on a business publication, and what special strategies might accelerate the success of such an enterprise. We were prepared for graphs and charts, action plans and outlines. But Luntz reduced it to much simpler terms.

Luntz told us of his epiphany, of learning that business and politics are joined at the hip in Nevada.

To recognize and respond to this simple truth would be to discover the path to success, he said. In parting, he mentioned that we should hire any journalists who could help in this regard. Were there any?

At the time, we knew of but one writer who bridged the intersection of business and politics. And within a short time, we had hired Jon Ralston, then and still the best political analyst in the state, who previously had been writing a column for the other guys.

Jon and a team of good journalists would write some great stuff for our new business weekly once we began spilling ink, but before that could happen, we had to plan its foundation — that is, the Data section full of items like building permits and business licenses.

This fell on the shoulders of Ulf Buchholz, an editor we had hired in anticipation of this detailed project. Ulf knew that to be valued as business leads, things like permits and licenses had to be published immediately. A few local government offices had gotten sloppy in providing them to the media; they conformed once Ulf explained the law, and we were on our way.

When we finally launched on June 2, the inaugural edition included a recognition section called “Deal Makers of the Year.” I’m not listing all the honorees here, but you’d surely recognize almost all the individuals and companies that we wrote about. The next month’s recognition program was “Most Influential Women.”

Both of these first two special sections created healthy debates around town, and quickly proved a popular feature of the new paper. But they also prompted reader inquiries about the criteria we used in making selections, whether perhaps we showed favor to advertisers, and whether the rah-rah approach with such “positive” news in our special sections conflicted with our ability to objectively cover the tougher news.

On reflection, it seemed wise to put a buffer between our news staff and our awards programs, and we did that, with Steve Green eventually leading the news team and Rob Langrell the special sections unit. The advertising staff was excluded from the selection process, which seemed to enhance the credibility of selections. The conspicuous separation from the influence of advertising dollars helped build trust with readers, and helped broaden the appeal of our sections.

In time, we created events to accompany the sections and recognition programs, and these became hot tickets, a place where business decision-makers could meet and mingle.

In the second half of this decade, Kelli Maruca’s events team raised our breakfast, lunch and dinner gatherings to a very high standard, making progress that has been good for the people and companies we honor, but also for our own brand.

More than anything else, the recognition programs and the sections and events that celebrate them, give balance to our news reporting. Obviously, recognition programs such as the “Influence” series and “Forty Under 40” and “Health Care Headliners” point out things that are going right in our business community. And, after all, if we in the media don’t do that, who else will?

With this issue, we now have published almost 27,000 pages. In 10 years, we’ve honored 400 people with our “Forty Under 40,” named 425 men and women as being “influential” in Southern Nevada business, and given 25 other people awards for their work in helping diversify local workplaces, just to name a few examples. All in all, we’ve recognized just about 1,000 people and companies for local achievements, in an economic climate that has gone from one extreme to the other.

During most of our first decade, we chronicled one of the world’s great economic booms. In the past couple of years, we’ve written of a different performance. As a local business, we’ve shared the pain of the times.

But we move forward, watching for both new stories and new role models. It’s always about what’s next. But it still seems like only last month.

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