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    As Jim Morrison famously sang, “This is the end….” The end of my tenure as owner and publisher of Louisville Magazine, that is — just so we don’t get all apocalyptic about it.

    On Sept. 1, I sold the magazine and the website Louisville.com to Matthew Barzun, a local entrepreneur, civic leader and former U.S. ambassador to Sweden and to Great Britain (to mention only a few of his many accomplishments).

    Which means I have to write the obligatory “last” column, in which I reflect back on the triumphs and setbacks that occurred during my 25-year run as publisher — and, briefly, editor — of Loumag (as we fondly refer to it in the inner sanctum). But those pieces are hard to write, as one starts thanking all the people who helped along the way and inevitably leaves out some key players. So I’ll just throw out an all-encompassing, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has worked at the magazine and the website since my reign began in 1993 — including the hundreds of freelance writers, photographers and illustrators — all of whom worked for what was almost always less pay than they deserved.

    With that out of the way, I think it’s appropriate to tell the origin story of this long and winding journey.

     

    In many ways it starts in 1987, when I quit my job as a reporter for the Courier-Journal’s neighborhoods section. I wanted to write longer, magazine-like stories than my job at the C-J afforded, so I contacted Jack Welch, a friend of mine who worked at Louisville Magazine — then owned by the Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce — and asked if the magazine needed freelance writers. I ended up writing about a dozen stories for the magazine over the next three years.

    One of them, seen in the light of what happened after, was ironically fateful: Then-editor Jim Oppel asked me if I would do a story about how the Gannett-owned Courier-Journal was faring three years after the Bingham family sold it to the newspaper chain. Several well-known editors and writers had recently left the newspaper, and there were rumors being bruited about that morale was suffering and this might be the beginning of a mass exodus of talented journalists. I was to talk to the people who’d left and current staffers, many of whom I knew from my time working at the C-J, and report back on the true state of the newspaper.

    So I did. And found that, yes, some former and current editorial-side employees were a bit disgruntled, or at the very least worried, that the newspaper’s quality was declining or would decline under Gannett’s ownership, and several cited that as a reason for jumping ship. I found others who said they had not detected any journalistic slippage — most notably, editor David Hawpe. When I entered his office to interview him for the story, he met me with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat in hand (meant humorously, I think). Hawpe made it quite clear that he thought the paper was as good as, if not better than, ever.

    I wrote up the story, including both points of view, sent it to the Louisville Magazine editors and waited an unusually long time to hear back. The first thing I heard from one of the editors was that the Chamber’s then-president, Charles Buddeke, had sent my draft of the story to Courier-Journal higher-ups. That concerned me, because I knew that in the world of “real” journalism, that’s something you never do. A few days later, I got a call from Oppel, who told me — in the most regretful tone — that the magazine was not going to run the story. Chamber overseers had nixed it. I later heard, but cannot confirm, that the C-J folks had threatened to quit the Chamber if the magazine ran the story.

    I was both disappointed and a little pissed off. I’d put a lot of work into the story and thought that it was fairly reported and written and, if anything, leaned to the mild side. For my troubles, the magazine paid me a “kill” fee of, if I recall correctly, $200.

    But the real interesting part was that when C-J staffers learned that the story had been killed, and why, several of them asked me to send them my draft, which I did. And one of them thumbtacked it to a bulletin board on the newspaper’s editorial floor for all to read. And so it became a minor controversy, wind of which got picked up by Business First, whose then-publisher, Mike Kallay, called to ask if I would be willing to let his newspaper publish the story, along with a story they would do about why Louisville Magazine had decided not to run it. And best of all, they were going to pay me $500. That, along with the magazine’s kill fee, made it the best-paying freelance article I had ever written.

    But there was one significant downside: I had just destroyed my relationship with the two publications — the Courier-Journal and Louisville Magazine — that had published almost all of my freelance writing.

    Fast-forward a couple of years to November 1992, when I saw a story in the C-J with the headline “Chamber of Commerce puts Louisville Magazine up for sale.” Coincidentally, I had spent the previous six months researching the possibility of starting up a new magazine — my concept was one that had a statewide focus — but had not figured out how to make it work financially. So when the Chamber announced that the only magazine in the city in which I resided was up for sale, it felt a little like fate poking me in the ribs.

    I ended up putting in a bid for the magazine, never expecting that mine would actually be chosen. I still don’t know if there were any other bidders for what was then a publication whose ad pages were rapidly declining. Six months later, on April 12, 1993, I signed the papers making me the new owner of Louisville Magazine.

     

    Several people asked me at the time if I had purchased the magazine as a kind of “take that” to the Chamber for the imbroglio about my C-J story — an “if you won’t publish my piece, I’ll just buy the damn thing” move. Although I did recognize the irony of the situation, the answer is a qualified “no.”

    I would put it more like this: I bought Louisville Magazine so that my city could have a magazine that could publish stories like the one I had written about the Courier-Journal, that was not beholden to or controlled by the powers-that-be. I also wanted to create a publication that would attract the region’s best writers, photographers and illustrators. In short, I wanted it to be good — independent, well-written, artfully designed, entertaining and informative. A publication that I would want to read.

    Whether I — at this point, I should say we — succeeded in that goal is up to the readers to decide. At the least, I know that we established its independence. I believe that it is a publication for which the best local writers want to write and in which the best local photographers and illustrators want their work to be seen.

    And here I will drop all pretense of modesty or objectivity and say that I also think it’s a damn well-written and well-designed magazine that I would put up against any city magazine in the country.

    I’m extremely pleased to hand it off to a local owner who, I feel certain, will maintain its journalistic independence and editorial quality.

    And there, I’ll end.

    This originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "The End." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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