Can We Talk?

By Emerson Schwartzkopf

It’s time for a chat. One of the things I told readers when Stone Update Magazine appeared in 2017 is that I would play it straight and not try to sugarcoat anything. I’ve done my best to maintain that, even in some trying times. Unfortunately, there’s an angry mood about media in general out there in that it’s mean, evil, untruthful, rapacious and all around pretty awful. You might think this is talk reserved for the high national platforms of national newspapers, broadcasters and other networks – but it’s not. I’ve worked with various trade publications since the late 1970s, and I’m used to letting the negative steam blow away. Recently, though, it’s been getting worse and getting thick, and it’s time to take a break and clear the air. So, let’s have a little Q&A: Q: How much money do companies pay you to get coverage in your magazine? A: In two words: They don’t. They buy advertising. They don’t buy the reporting, the columns, and other information in Stone Update Magazine. We decide what to cover, what to mention, and what products get featured in our ProductTalk section, and we don’t sell that off. We do offer something called content marketing, which is really the newest version of a news/advertising product formerly called advertorials. Yes, it does look more like an article than an advertisement, and we get paid for that. Companies use these to tell a story than push a product. These are also easy to spot in the pages of Stone Update Magazine. The presentations look newsier than a traditional ad, but you’ll also see different typestyles, radically different layouts and changes from the norm. A key part is the use of a company’s corporate color scheme for backgrounds, headlines and even blurbs in the issue’s table of contents. I used to put PAID ADVERTISEMENT on the page just to make sure, but – years ago – I found that readers could tell the difference anyway. Now, I’m not so sure. Q: You expect us to believe that you aren’t being paid off by advertisers? A: Yes. Look, we’re keenly aware of who pays the freight to get the magazine out and put groceries on the table. That doesn’t mean we run a scorecard of company mentions and have must-run or kill lists. In fact, if you’d tote up the number of times that companies get mentioned in this issue, you’d likely find that some of the leaders have never bought an ad in this magazine. Q: So, who’s holding the purse strings? A: You mean, who owns us? Technically speaking, it’s a California concern called Word Mechanics that’s a joint proprietorship between my spouse and myself. (California law allows us to do this.) We own the whole shooting match. Nobody else is fronting us or controlling any interest. It’s just us. We’re an independent small business. My spouse has remarked several times – usually in April -- that we should apply to the Internal Revenue Service for non-profit status. It’s a tempting thought, but we’re still looking to make money, like our readers. Q: Who suggests what you’re going to cover in the magazine? A: Just about anybody. We read a lot on industry topics and companies both nationwide and worldwide using internet bots. This is a real jumble of stuff with keywords, and we might find something juicy in one of every 1,000 summaries we read, but occasionally we strike gold. We listen to people in the industry. We get pitched topics by companies and public-relations agencies. And, sometimes, we just get curious about something and can’t find anything written about it – so we do the job. Q: Yeah, you just run a lot of press releases. A: We start with a lot of press releases, but it’s pretty rate that you’ll see one run verbatim in the magazine. As journalists, we realize that sometimes there is a real art in crafting a press release, and an equal art in deciphering one. Someone may announce a new hire, and you’ll find out at the end of the release that there’s been a major shakeup in the company. Or a company buyout may result from a bankruptcy or court order that somehow didn’t get mentioned at all. We sometime spend hours of research to get a relevant fact that merits one sentence in an article. Some call that muckraking or fake news; we think that it’s getting more perspective on what you read.. Q: What’s with all this tariff stuff? I don’t import anything. A: Unless you’re running your own quarry somewhere in the United States, you’re using imported goods as your basic raw material. The ratio is close to 3:1 in favor of imports for man-made material and likely 9:1 for natural stone. (That’s a little Easter Egg from a video presentation I made at TISE Live in January, and you can see it here.) Your tooling, whether for CNC or hand-held units, is probably coming through a port-of-entry somewhere. Tariffs are now the wild-card variant in your overhead, and we want you to have as best a heads-up as possible. As I noted earlier, I want you to know why we’re doing things. It’s much like, in the movie Citizen Kane, where moneyed bad-boy and neophyte publisher Charles Foster Kane offers his “Statement of Principles” to his readers. Hopefully, things won’t end as in the film, where Kane is offered the document years later by someone accusing him of violating his own credo … and Kane bitterly tears it to shreds. After all, it’s pretty hard to rip up a web page.