By J.F. McKenna
My roaring guardian angel has taken a promotion. In doing so, we’ve all lost one hell of a business journalist.
Stan Modic and I traveled the same reporting paths for more than 20 years. At different times, I worked with him, for him and—at least in theory—over him. He always seemed to be waiting for me somewhere—airports, editorial offices, trade shows. No matter where we were, he took pains to educate me as a business reporter and editor, pointing me in the right direction for stories and keeping me from taking professional or personal short cuts.
Stan exercised his guardianship by often employing not-so-angelic expressions, punctuating the point at hand with a Slovenian expression. Stan was Slovenia’s self-appointed ambassador to the world, and his scolding usually left this product of an Irish-Catholic neighborhood more than a bit nonplused.
My ignorance of Central European languages notwithstanding, Stan set a high standard for me. He never traded on the scores of awards and honors he had accumulated over the years, including the coveted G.D. Crain Award from the Association of Business Publishers. He modestly shrugged off his pivotal role in building Cleveland-based Industry Week magazine into the best-known voice of American manufacturing. He never tired of showing me how to retool Tooling & Production magazine as vehicle for educating business leaders. For Stan, every day presented a singular opportunity to get the job done well. He expected the same from his colleagues.
“My basic philosophy is that, in the business press, you have a specialized audience,” he insisted. “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.”
So would roar the lion of the business press. I heard that roar many a time over the years, starting at Industry Week. As his son, Mark, noted at Stan’s April 15 funeral, “the model for TV’s Lou Grant” wasn’t interested in “doing the best I can.” Complete success was the goal to be achieved, whether it was meeting a story deadline, promoting Slovenian cultural in northeast Ohio or, most important, fulfilling the duties of a family man.
All you had to do was get past the legendary Modician brusqueness and your search for excellence was over.
“What are you doing?” Stan growled as I pulled my copy off the printer. After three days as Industry Week ‘s rookie staffer, I was wholly focused on making a good impression before my all-star colleagues.
“I just finished my story and I was going to turn it into the managing editor,” I mumbled, weakly.
“You don’t want to do that,” Stan challenged.
Panic began to set in. Already I had heard all the stories about the straight talker who took no guff from politicians, business executives and so-called higher-ups inside the company. Stan was the Jeremiah of journalism, the guy who had told American business that it was in danger of losing it competitive edge way back in the 1970s. I was an assistant editor scrambling for a quick, confident reply.
“I don’t want to turn my story in?” I said, even more weakly.
“No,” Stan said. “You’ll make the others look bad.”
Stan Modic’s sense of humor on display: I had received my introduction to it, and I saw it many times thereafter. In 1995, he hired me as a staff editor for Tooling & Production, another industrial magazine he was transforming. “I figure you need the job,” he said. “If you don’t work out, I’ll fire you in three months.” I lasted somewhat longer than that, always the journeyman to the master of the business press.
As my guardian angel, he pushed and he pulled and he prodded to make me better at my job. And better in my life. Like a worried father, Stan even made me plead my case for getting married. As soon as I had I completed “my brief” on matrimonial intentions, he said: “OK, I just wanted to be sure.” Actually, he was worried more about Carol’s welfare than mine.
For Stan Modic, the world came down to one-to-one relationships, all the time.
“Throughout his career Stan maintained an unrelenting focus on ‘his’ readers, always trying to serve them better with some unique project or editorial feature,” said Bob Gardner, who had worked for Stan at Industry Week before giving up the press side to become vice president of public relations at The Association for Manufacturing Technology. “This approach, called ‘service journalism’ by some, led him to create insightful editorial features, lead pioneering study trips to Japan and Russia and speak out boldly in his editorials.”
Bold commentary was an understatement for the former newspaper city editor. “In this era of making sure we are politically correct, heaven forbid that the picture on the [holiday] card would in any way relate to Christ’s birth or Hanukkah—the religious significance of the holy season,” Stan wrote in a 2001 column. “Rather, the cards feature a winter scene. It makes me wonder if recipients in New Mexico, California or Hawaii consider it politically correct to relate the holiday with snow and cold.
“I suggest that may be at the root of the problem of business communications, particularly management-labor relations,” he continued. “We don’t spend enough time to send the right message. We spend more time finding words that are politically correct than the best words to send the right message.”
The lion, it is said, is majestic because its roar echoes long after the lion departs the plain. Rest well, my friend. Know that we still hear the echoes.
En jezik ni nikoli dovolj.
J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. He served as editor in chief of Tooling & Production magazine for five years, succeeding Stan Modic in that role in 2001. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .