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Monday, January 25, 2021

1988-2018: In the beginning …

In 1988, Fort Worth Alliance Airport was under construction, gasoline was 91 cents a gallon and the average price of a car was $10,400. In downtown Fort Worth, the Bass brothers were developing and Fort Worth was growing.

American City Business Journals (ACBJ) in Kansas City, Missouri, owned 42 business newspapers throughout the country including the Dallas/Fort Worth Business Journal.

At the time, I was the COO of the public company. The economic downturn had put banks into receivership and the housing market under water. In addition, a number of our business journal startups were in financial trouble.

I had worked in the Fort Worth area as a representative of a building supply company, Payless Cashways, which had opened a store in White Settlement near Ridgmar Mall, and I realized that Dallas and Fort Worth were not the same business community.

I was able to raise venture capital from a Wichita, Kansas, businessman and convince ACBJ’s board of directors to have the Dallas/Fort Worth Business Journal concentrate only on the Dallas side of the Metroplex and to sign a non-compete for Tarrant County. ACBJ basically didn’t cover much Tarrant County news and so it didn’t think it was giving up much of a market.

I knew better.

The launch of the business journal began in December with the renting of space in a building at East Fifth and Jones streets downtown that had housed the former Fort Worth Press daily newspaper.

Several people made the launch in just over three months possible. Jane Schlansker of InterStar was hired to give us community advice and work on the public relations introduction of the paper. She led us to attorney David

Chappell and to Roger Rienstra at Witherspoon & Associates.

It was her suggestion to name the newspaper the Business Press to reflect the newspaper history of our building. Her efforts also led to my joining the Fort Worth Rotary Club, where I became acquainted with a number of the business leaders. I was among the first women to join Rotary.

The equipment for the office came from Richmond, Virginia. ACBJ was closing a business journal in that city and I was able to buy the entire office and have it moved to Fort Worth. That saved a lot of time and effort. I remember sitting in the office waiting for the furniture, computers and files.

When the moving truck arrived, we called it a paper in a box.

Of course, staffing was another matter.

I was able to bring a very talented editor named Jeff Fruit from Ohio. I had owned a business journal in Columbus, Ohio, and Jeff was my editor. He was stolen nearly a year later by the Dallas Business Journal as publisher and today heads the journalism program at Kent State University.

The rest of the staff was local. I had run employment ads for staff beginning in November 1987.

One of the first resumes was from a recent college graduate, Steve Roth. He had little experience and I was skeptical. However, he called and wrote me in Kansas City nearly every week. Thank goodness he wore me down, and he was among the first people hired. He now is with Fluor Corp.

I was also blessed with several other excellent writers including Belinda Willis, now with the city of Mansfield; Mark Leach, now with First Command Financial Services; and Jack Flanders, who now owns his own agency in Arlington.

Since a newspaper must have advertising, I was able to hire Cathy Caporrici as ad director. I was impressed with all of the talent available in the market.

The market seemed to welcome us as we worked toward producing our first issue. One of the most helpful couples was Gordon and Louise Appleman. Gordon, with Thompson & Knight law firm, embraced the idea of more business coverage. His wife, Louise, guided us to stories in the health care industry. Pete Geren helped us with insight into politics.

The only hitch was that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wasn’t real fond of us coming into the market. That’s understandable. It’s a good newspaper and had taken over the market and watched the demise of two other newspapers.

So the opposition wasn’t unexpected.

Richard L. Connor, the Star-Telegram publisher, at least spoke to me. In fact, he went so far as to pose with me for a picture advertising a charity event, with me reading our newspaper and Connor reading his new publication, Tarrant Business. Developed by Paul K. Harral, Tarrant Business was launched as our a competitor.

Connor now owns the Business Press and Harral is an associate editor there.

I had been in business journal work for several years as publisher and with the largest chain of business journals in the nation. I knew that both publications would do well in the market and that we were a “different” product. I knew they would attempt to compete and they did, launching their product just days before ours. But I also knew that we would do a different twist on business news, that their reporters simply didn’t have the time or space to compete.

Our first big splash was to pass out visors with our name on them in the parking lot at the Colonial Invitational golf tournament featuring up-and-coming golfer Tiger Woods.

That seemed to irritate the daily newspaper,

When our first issue was printed, I went to Gordon Appleman’s office to get his reaction. I will never forget his reply: “It’s not a bad first issue, but what will you write about next week?”

Well, Gordon, it seems that 30 years later there are still stories to be told every week.

I am grateful to the many people who helped me bring this idea to a reality. The talent of the staff through the years and, most important, the vitality of the area provide more than enough news.

Carolyn Ashford founded the Fort Worth Business Press and was publisher until 1992. She is now retired and lives in Grove, Oklahoma.

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