• April 18, 2024

A Legacy of Leadership

 A Legacy of Leadership

Image: HTGanzo

Image: HTGanzo

Tobacco Reporterturns 150.

By Mike Macdonald

Impressionism was born in April 1874 when Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Pissaro, Sisley and Cezanne broke the rules and held their own art exhibition in Paris. Other notable events from the year included the establishment of the Universal Postal Union to coordinate international mail, the invention of the cylindrical QWERTY typewriter/keyboard, a patent for blue jeans with copper rivets by Levi Strauss (that sold for $13.50 per dozen) and the debut in Bombay of the first commercial horse-drawn carriage. Notable births that year included American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, magician Harry Houdini, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

That year also marked the birth of Tobacco Reporter magazine, the leading source of industry information for, now officially, a century and a half. Technically, Tobacco Reporter began as the Western Tobacco Journal, a small, weekly newspaper published in Cincinnati, Ohio, for farmers growing burley tobacco along the Ohio River, but even then, it was the go-to source for industry information. Over time, manufacturers, processors, importers, exporters and most anybody interested in tobacco joined the growers in reading it. Before long, it was a full-fledged, monthly magazine shipped to more than 100 countries around the world, officially changing its name to Tobacco Reporter in 1966.

How it started

From the beginning, the award-winning magazine rode the waves of technology in publishing and was a stalwart of the tobacco industry, priding itself on obtaining the most pertinent information possible in person, firsthand. At TR’s birth, linotype (a typesetting machine that uses a keyboard instead of people doing it manually), zinc printing plates and web presses that used rolls of paper instead of individual sheets, were all brand-new inventions that made the printing process much quicker and more affordable. Progress over the decades came in the way of the mimeograph, film, monotype machines and eventually computers, and TR took advantage with each step. Today, TR remains dedicated to the printed page but also takes advantage of the technology offered by communicating information with digital editions, e-newsletters and a website that is voraciously fed each day. Whatever medium the reader preferred, TR always delivered.

Issues in the early years offered practical advice and news written by growers for growers, but soon, professional journalists who were experts in the field (no pun intended) joined to set the standards that still top the industry to this day. A trip through TR’s archives is like reading a meticulously detailed history of the modern tobacco world, featuring companies, innovations, trends, growing reports and governmental news as well as the people who made it all happen.

Riding the waves of technology, even then. (Photo: simonekesh)

In 1980, Tobacco Reporter was sold from the Western Printing Co. to Specialized Agricultural Publications, and its headquarters was moved closer to the heart of the American tobacco scene, Raleigh, North Carolina. In his December 1980 editorial, associate publisher Peter Sangenito predicted, “With this merger, Tobacco Reporter will solidify its position, despite misleading and inaccurate statements made to the contrary by a competitive magazine, as the No. 1 international tobacco industry publication in the United States. We intend to hold—and expand—this position.”

Forty-four years later, mission accomplished! Tobacco Reporter became the flagship of the company’s tobacco and nicotine division, surrounded by other titles such as Flue-Cured Tobacco Farmer, Burley Tobacco Farmer, Tobacco Farm Quarterly, Tobacconist, Pipes and Tobaccos, Cigars and Leasure and, most recently, Vapor Voice.

Elise Rasmussen

The first person hired after the move to North Carolina was a spirited young salesperson straight out of college by the name of Elise Ward (Rasmussen). The rest, as they say, is history. Elise not only remains with the company these many years later heading up global sales, but she is also the publisher of TR and one of the most recognizable characters in the industry, with too many accomplishments to count. She is only the second woman to serve as the master of the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders and is a serial founder, having launched or co-founded two other magazines, including TR’s sister publication, Vapor Voice, as well as Women in Tobacco, an organization with more than 500 members that has given voice and appreciation to the women within an industry once solely dominated by men.

Elise’s biggest contribution to the industry’s intellectual discourse, however, has been the creation of the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF). Since its inaugural gathering in Rio de Janeiro in 2008, the GTNF has evolved into the nicotine business’ single most important discussion forum, bringing together not only industry executives but also senior regulators, policymakers and public health advocates to reflect on the sector’s challenges and opportunities.

Same talent but greater ambition

In 1996, Taco Tuinstra joined TR, and, with true Dutch wit—that being, it doesn’t come along often, but when it does, it is gold—he quips that he’s not sure if serving as a magazine’s editor-in-chief for nearly three decades should be a source of pride or an indictment on his lack of ambition. Jokes aside, Taco is one of the most respected journalists in the industry and a true believer in getting the story firsthand. He has visited more than 80 countries, including destinations that even the most adventurous tourist would be awestricken by.

Taco has been to not only North Korea and Latin America’s tri-border region but also, in 2003, to the lawless area straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan, the place where at the end of the 19th century, a nearly equally talented but considerably more ambitious correspondent honed his craft, reporting on—and at times participating in—Britain’s bloody campaign against Pashtun tribesmen. Unlike Winston Churchill (who was featured with his signature cigar on TR’s February 1965 cover), Taco did not lay siege to his hosts, electing to talk tobacco with them instead. In fact, his sources welcomed him by noting that he was the first Western visitor to arrive in the region unarmed since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Rounding out the award-winning editorial team are George Gay, who, with his keen sense of observation and sharp wit, has become one of the most authoritative tobacco commentators since he started reporting on the business in 1982; Stefanie Rossel, who is widely respected for her deep industry knowledge; and assistant editor Timothy Donahue, who in his 11 years has become a recognized expert on the vapor business, scoring, among many other scoops, an exclusive interview with the inventor of the e-cigarette, Herbert Gilbert. 

These roving reporters, who you will likely have met in your fields, factories and at trade exhibitions over the years, are supported by a committed team of professionals in our Raleigh office: Marissa Dean has been instrumental in the exponential growth of TR’s website and digital offerings while graphic designer Dan Kurtz, eagle-eyed copyeditor Kailyn Warpole and all-everything Karen Pace are instrumental behind the scenes. Our most recent hire, Will Rasmussen, has been a stalwart at GTNF events for years and now gives his mother much-needed assistance.

In print, online - and in person; industry events such as TABEXPO became an important part of Tobacco Reporter's portfolio. (Photo: Taco Tuinstra)

Our current lineup fits into a long tradition of hiring top talent. What industry veteran will not remember Ann Jeffries, Colleen Williams, Noel Morris, Kay O’Neill, Chris Glass, Brandy Brinson and Ann Crumpler, to name just a few of the stars whose names have graced TR business cards over the years?

Of all the evolutions we’ve seen in the publishing industry over these 150 years, most of the biggest changes have been triggered by how readers wanted to consume their information. The internet revolution driving everything online was clearly the biggest, but another popular trend came with in-person events. Trade shows became an important part of the business world, and many magazines in all industries began hosting them as a new way to engage with their readers, and TR was no exception. Too often, companies attended such events more out of obligation than desire, though, and sensing stress within the tobacco industry because of numerous small shows, TR owner Dayton Matlick and his staff set out to create the ultimate industry show, painstakingly traveling around the world and interviewing the stakeholders to see what they actually wanted, with the mantra that we serve ourselves best by serving our customers first. In 1994, TabExpo was born under the TR umbrella, and to this day is the “must-attend” trade show for the industry.

Tobacco Reporter’s most recent chapter began in 2020 when it was purchased by TMA, a match that has propelled both organizations to new heights. Founded in 1915 as an industry trade association, TMA is a member-driven, nonprofit source of information and analysis that empowers ideas as well as assembles stakeholders to discuss and debate tobacco and nicotine matters. Together, TR and TMA have strengthened one another to the benefit of the industry, offering daily news, financial projections, market research, business insights, company profiles, governmental coverage, virtual seminars, in-person forums and the in-depth, long-form articles that have made the magazine the unquestioned leader in the industry for the last century and a half. It’s hard to believe, but now, under the leadership of TMA, the publication that has such a rich and impressive past has an even brighter future.

Here’s to the next 150 years!