Remembering a Good Editor and the Great Old Days of Print Journalism

Henry Fortunato after leaving DC for Kansas City.

Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle fondly remembers Henry Fortunato, a Washington magazine editor who “reinvented himself as the impresario of programming at the Kansas City Public Library.”  Von Drehle ends the appreciation: “Life is lived in communities, though, and communities must have spirit. I’ve been lucky to live the past quarter-century in two communities—D.C. and K.C.—where the spirit is livelier because Henry walked in.”

Henry was the first editor of Regardie’s, a 1980s magazine that was mostly about the real estate business in Washington—its motto was “Money. Power. Greed.”  Von Drehle describes Washington back  then as “rather seedy, with a vaguely Weimar vibe.” A little true, but Washington in the 1980s also was booming, with federal spending rapidly increasing, legal and lobbying firms hiring, and real estate values, both residential and commercial, going up 10 or 20 percent a year.

Those were DC’s good old days and the Washingtonian’s best years, with most issues around 300 pages, more than half of that advertising. As our ads, pages, and income went up, competition increased. Bill Regardie, who with his wife Renee had several real estate publications, started the glossy monthly Regardie’s, which hired Henry. The ad base for Regardie’s was mostly real estate developers who were leasing office space but Bill also loved controversy and the spotlight and he hired a lot of good writers (Harry Jaffe), designers (Fred Woodward, Rip Georges, and Terry Dale), and editors, starting with Henry.

Along with Regardie’s, other Washington magazines started in the 1980s—Dossier, which was mostly society coverage and parties, Museum and Arts, and other smaller publications. They were all lively and made Washington journalism competitive, gossipy, and fun.

But they were controlled circulation magazines, meaning their magazine were mailed free to a list of people who had money and maybe an interest in the subject. Because those magazines were totally dependent on revenue from advertisers, they did well in the booming 1980s but when there was a business slowdown in the early 1990s, they couldn’t get enough ads and they all disappeared, including Regardie’s. A lot of good jobs gone, along with Henry leaving for Kansas City.
Some background: While there was that DC business slowdown in the 1990s, another trend was changing journalism in Washington and the rest of the country. In the early 1980s, Washington was a city of locally owned businesses—banks, department stores, clothing stores, etc. They were the ad base for magazines, the Washington Post and the Washington Star. The people who owned those businesses, mostly men, lived here and read the Washingtonian, Regardie’s, and the other local publications. We took them to breakfast or lunch to sell them ads. We all knew each other and ate at the same restaurants (Duke Ziebert’s often the one—Bill Regardie had his own table there).

Then Bloomingdale’s, the trendy department store in New York, opened a branch in Washington. Wow, real fashion comes to DC!

Little did we know. What followed in the 1990s was an invasion of national chains opening stores in Washington. Suddenly local magazines weren’t selling ads to people we knew who lived here and read our magazines—we had to go to New York or Cincinnati or Seattle to sell ads to people who didn’t know Washington and who didn’t read the Washingtonian or Regardie’s. They wanted numbers, not any claims of how much our readers loved us.

All this was driven by the digital revolution (in retailing started by Walmart) which allowed Macy’s and Nordstrom’s and Home Depot to manage stores across the country and drive the local competition, our advertisers, out of business.

With the decline of local business and with ad revenue harder to get, the controlled circulation magazines mostly disappeared. Those of us who survived had to mostly tread water. That worked okay until the digital revolution went from changing how businesses operated to changing how people got information—broadband, Google, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter. A double whammy for newspapers and magazines.

It’s now an ever lonelier world for those who love print. RIP Henry Fortunato. Bill Regardie is still in Washington—we should have lunch and talk about all the great editors and writers we’ve known who once had good jobs.
P.S. Henry and I had a couple of lunches in Washington before he left for Kansas City. All I can remember, aside from enjoying the lunches, was Henry saying he got his best story ideas while shaving in the morning. I told him I got mine while walking the dog.




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