Welcome to your first in what will be 10 daily recaps of the past 10 years in your Great Lakes IT Report.
It’s a little hard to write about anything that occurred in September 2001 without mentioning you-know-what — the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. of Sept. 11, 2001. But while the start of GLITR was certainly overshadowed by those events, the start of GLITR actually goes a bit farther back than that.
It was in the late spring of 2001 that WWJ Newsradio 950’s then-general-manager Rich Homberg and the station’s then-program director Georgeann Herbert began contacting me to tell me that I ought to leave a perfectly good job at Crain’s Detroit Business magazine, where I had been covering technology, and come write an e-mail newsletter for them that would be focused on Michigan tech companies, and other companies in Michigan that were doing interesting things with the Internet.
It took them a while to convince me. After all, a quality print publication was going to be a stable job forever, right? Yeah. But I was honestly attracted to the idea of writing in the online format, because I honestly viewed it as the future of journalism.
The only question I had about online journalism was how you monetized it enough to pay for professional journalists. They had not yet figured that out at Crain’s in 2001, and looking around me today, I see an awful lot of publications still haven’t figured it out — just ask the thousands of out-of-work journalists around the country. But as for GLITR, Michigan Virtual University, back when it still had a lot of money to throw around, and its visionary president, Dave Spencer, had signed a two-year contract to be the founding sponsor of GLITR — spending enough money to guarantee that we’d come out of the gate breaking even for at least two years.
I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to the degree of freedom the publication promised. What would it cover? What would it choose to ignore? How would it be distributed? In what format would it be published? All that was up to me. I would have actual editorial control, within reason. That was a first for me, and it was a powerful lure.
Alrighty, then. I was convinced. I figured that the publication could certainly attract enough sponsorship to stand on its own after two years, and it turns out, miraculously, I was right. I gave my notice at Crain’s and started at WWJ Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001, the day after Labor Day.
We spent the first week figuring out where the news would come from, and letting the Michigan technology community know what we were planning. We also picked out our email vendor — a company out of Georgia called Nikonet that would charge us the princely sum of two cents per email delivery — and our delivery format — believe it or not, Microsoft FrontPage. We got a lot of positive feedback at Automation Alley’s inaugural awards gala Friday, Sept. 7, 2001.
And then I showed up for work Tuesday, Sept. 11, and was told that an airplane had flown into New York’s World Trade Center. Like no less a personage than President Bush, I assumed they were talking about a small private plane and an idiotic pilot. I never imagined an airliner, but there it was, a huge gash all the way across the building. Everyone at WWJ was gathered in the newsroom staring up at our four TV monitors. (I later learned that you could tell when something either really bad or really good was happening when all four monitors were showing the same thing.)
And then another plane slammed into the second tower. “Definitely terrorism,” murmured GLITR’s first advertising seller, Wendy Baca. Everyone else was speechless, except for gasps or sobs, and we let our New York affiliate’s coverage play on that morning, with some local breaks.
Very shortly we shook ourselves and realized we had an important job to do, reporting the news, about local reactions and local shutdowns of skyscrapers.
And I realized that I still had a job to do launching this new publication. As difficult as it was, we all started planning for the launch again.
And on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001, we sent out the first edition of GLITR, to about 3,500 email recipients.
Its opening paragraph read as follows:
“GOOD MORNING AND WELCOME — To your newest resource in the never-ending, competitive world of technology. Our mission here is simple: we will give you everything you need to know about technology to do business every weekday. We won’t take any more of your time than we have to. We won’t offer you opinion, only perspective. And our perspective on technology will be grounded in the sensibilities of the Great Lakes State and its neighbors — you remember, the part of the country where we actually make stuff (and, just as importantly, make money). And remember, we need your help in terms of news tips and feedback. Feel free to send either to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking for “people” items, too. And with that, we’re off…”
The initial format was intentionally very simple. Each story was a single paragraph and there were no jumps to a GLITR Web site. (Eventually we would change that, as research told us people didn’t even want to scan a long paragraph of a story that didn’t interest them, and that if the story did interest them, they’d gladly click over to a Web site.) There was virtually no art other than the advertising. And every story was about Michigan companies doing interesting things with technology to promote economic growth.
We’d like to think we’re still living up to that mission. Even though our design is now a bit more artsy, every story you read in what is now called the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report will tell you a story about a Michigan company (or the Michigan office of a company based elsewhere) doing interesting things with hardware, software, advanced manufacturing, the life sciences or green technologies, to encourage the economic health of Michigan and its surrounding region. You will get perspective from this publication, but only infrequent opinion. And the major opinion we express is that Michigan deserves to be a winner, economically, socially, politically, spiritually and any other way you can think of. We’re here to help answer that musical question, “What will Michigan be famous for next?”
So thank you for the past 10 years, and please, for the sake of not just me but your neighbors, keep reading.