I’d been hearing the rumor for some time, and finally last week the news became official: Mark Bellissimo has bought Chronicle of the Horse. Actually, the official press release stated that the Bellissimo family bought the magazine, suggesting some kind of old-timey feel-good story, along the lines of the Walton family purchasing a small town general store. ‘Mary Ellen will handle the till while little Jim Bob will sweep the floors and keep the pickle barrel filled’…
I wonder what would motivate Sr. B to include the whole fam-damily in this transaction. Surely it’s not to disguise the fact that the owner of North America’s biggest horse show circuit now also controls the continent’s biggest, most widely read horse industry publication, since it’s mentioned right there in the release. Sr. B is not exactly a wall flower of a personality, so there really isn’t any point in trying to hide this new connection between the two, is there?
For their part, the Chroniclers seem to be taking the news of their new boss with grace – even joy. Beth Rasin, executive editor at COTH, wrote what appears to be a soul-baring commentary on the change of ownership. Her conclusion: Sr. B purchased the mag because he’s an ‘astute businessman’ and she is personally reassured that he has no interest in meddling with day-to-day operations or the magazine’s content.
I have just one question: why? Why did he buy a magazine, especially now, at a time when print media is taking blow after blow and digital media is still in the costly development stages? I’m not criticizing Chronicle by any means. It does what it does so well it’s hard to imagine any major improvements. I know Sr. B has repeatedly reassured the public and staff at COTH that he did not buy the magazine to turn it into a promotional vehicle for his other business pursuits – but I couldn’t help noticing that the press release issued by Jennifer Wood Media, the company that handles all the media for WEF, is identical to COTH’s announcement. Actually, the COTH announcement is an abbreviation of the Jennifer Wood press release, which effectively means that the magazine’s own official story about its sale is nothing more than an incomplete copy of the press release generated by the company that does Sr. B’s PR.
There are some interesting and widely (wildly, even) varied opinions being aired on COTH Forum, including the following post from Sr. B himself:
“I appreciate all of the feedback/commentary and understand the importance of both the magazine and this forum to the equestrian community. I would love to convey the following in reference to some themes in the posts;
“I believe in Freedom of Speech. As long as the guidelines of the Forums are respected, there will not be any censorship. I will never remove or ask anyone to remove any content or commentary critical of me personally or of any initiatives of WEF, WEP, PBIEC, or any other entity or event in which I am involved.
“I believe in the editorial integrity of the Chronicle. It is a critical component of its value and will stay intact. I will not review (nor would I ever expect a member of this editorial team to ask me to review) any coverage of any articles in which any of my entities are involved. The most important element of this purchase was the team at the Chronicle, who I believe are the best in the industry. Anyone who is familiar with Beth Rasin and her editorial team should know that they will not compromise their standards or tolerate anything less than full editorial control of their stories. The best way to lose great people is to not respect their professional standards. I have committed to them that they will have “free rein” in coverage of any and all stories. I am confident that they will report honestly and fairly all activities and events. I expect nothing less.
“I am committed to the print publication and we will be investing in expanding circulation.
“I am hopeful that you will give us the opportunity to earn your respect and confidence. Actions speak louder than words. I am confident we will deliver.”
If we set aside the fact that every single paragraph in the post starts with ‘I’ (with a total of 15 ‘I’s), there does seem to be a genuine commitment to stay out of the way when it comes to editorial content. I am too often the cynic in the room, so this time I will choose to be optimistic that Sr. B has bought COTH out of some as-yet-unrevealed good intentions, and that we have every reason to expect that excellent publication to become even better.
But I do still wonder why…