Bart Johnson, publisher of Ohio’s Country Journal
OCJ: First, congratulations on 20 years of Ohio’s Country Journal. What went into the decision for you and your dad, Ed Johnson, to expand into print when the company was already so successful with ABN radio and television?
Bart: In the early 90s we identified the need for a publication to exclusively cover Ohio’s Agriculture. The magazine/newspaper landscape was changing and most publications had moved to more of a national focus. At the same time, Tim Reeves, who was our first editor, was the editor of a group of farm papers in North Carolina but was looking to move back to Ohio. So those two things, a lack of Ohio coverage and a proven editor who knew Ohio’s agriculture made the decision pretty easy.
OCJ: Looking back, how challenging was it to convince advertisers to pay for advertising before the publication had a proven circulation?
Bart: The first issue was easy. We had a 20-year history of serving Ohio’s agriculture in radio and TV. Most advertisers wanted to be part of a new project. The next 18 issues were a little more difficult, but I am proud to say after 20 years we are still delivering results for our advertisers by providing interesting, educational, and entertaining articles for our readers.
OCJ: How have technology and other aspects of the OCJ changed in 20 years?
Bart: Technology has given us a huge boost in productivity. Our first issue was pasted up on layout boards and delivered to the printer in that format. We did not have any email and I think the company had one cell phone. Today everything is electronic and much more efficient. One of the benefits of technology is all of the staff is set up to work from home or on the road. The flexibility this provides increases our productivity and, more importantly, staff morale.
OCJ: How did the death of your father in February of 2001 affect the business?
Bart: From a pure business operations standpoint, I had been running the company for about two years so there wasn’t the adjustment of filling dad’s shoes operationally. Losing the voice and face of Ohio’s Agriculture was another thing. Not only was there a huge hole in our company, but also I think a huge hole in Ohio’s agriculture in general. How we coped with dad’s loss is we pulled our boots on everyday and did the best job we could of continuing the tradition of serving Ohio’s agriculture with news and information.
OCJ: Four staff members (including you) were listed in the original issue of OCJ that continue to contribute today and most of the staff have been with you for over 13 years. What has been the key to this success and longevity of employees?
Bart: We have a company joke that after you work here for a while no one else will hire you. We have a very different approach to work. We take very seriously what we do but we also have fun doing it. Anytime on outsider spends a day with us the most common response is “you call this work?” I think that attitude and my insistence that family comes first makes for a pretty good work environment.
OCJ: Why is it that you do not talk on the radio and write in the OCJ?
Bart: I did a little on air work when I was in college and I hated it (and I wasn’t very good). Dad always said if you don’t get excited when the red light goes on there are plenty of other opportunities in the company. So my path was more behind the scenes and in the business operations part of the company. Dad was very good about turning over responsibilities to me in the business and I think he enjoyed watching my growth as a businessman and was not disappointed I didn’t follow in his footsteps as a personality.
OCJ: What have been the biggest challenges in the last 20 years for the OCJ?
Bart: The ups and downs in agriculture. We make our living by selling advertising. When the farm economy is good advertising is good. When things are tight, advertising is tight. We are no different than any farm, you appreciate the good years and hold some back for the lean years.
OCJ: What has been the most rewarding part of continuing your father’s legacy in Ohio agriculture through the pages of OCJ?
Bart: The most rewarding part of my job and owning the company is the people I get to work with. We are a small enough staff that we are more like family. Like families sometimes we are a little dysfunctional, a bit crazy most of the time, but in the end everyone pulls for each other and lends a hand whenever and wherever it is needed. I am proud of the paper we print and our online product, but what I am most proud of are the people that make up Agri Communicators and Ohio’s Country Journal. It is truly rewarding to stay out of their way and watch them do their job.