Twenty-five years ago—the year Footwear Plus made its debut—I was in the first year of my journalism career. I was toiling away for a local weekly newspaper in northeast New Jersey. As the lone staff writer, I covered government, school board meetings, zoning board meetings, the police blotter, business news, politics, civic events, retirements, obits, holiday happenings, local heroes…if it was newsworthy in this suburban town of about 40,000 residents, I reported on it for the West Orange Chronicle.
I loved the job. It offered variety, excitement and, back then, it was pretty much the only media game in town. There were no blogs or social media outlets, and the bigger newspapers covered the town sporadically, superficially and usually just when there was really bad news. The platform granted to me was enormous, relatively speaking, for a person with less than one year’s experience. It was sink-or-swim journalism, and I often felt as though I was clomping around in cement shoes during those days.
Take my first zoning board meeting, for example. The discussion was about whether a proposed condominium development had too many units crammed into too small an area. Esoteric issues like impervious surface coverage, sewage line capacities and traffic flow patterns were being bandied about fast and confusingly. I broke into a sweat, wondering whether I would find any story hidden in all the technical mumbo jumbo. (My deadline was later that night and there was no Google to save me.) That’s when I came across “The Shark” and my journalistic epiphany.
The Shark was the developer’s attorney. A fit and trim man in his mid-40s, he was dressed in a much nicer suit than the board members, sported a terrific tan in the dead of winter and had a full head of perfectly coiffed hair. When a board member strolled by during a break and asked how he was, The Shark snapped, “Great. You know me, Phil. I’m a shark. Always swimming.” What a character, I thought. And that’s when it hit me: Focus on the people—the “who” in every story. You can’t forget the other tenets of reporting (what, where, when, why and how), but people are at the center of nearly every story. They are the catalysts, protagonists, egomaniacs, sharp dressers, heroes, leaders, newsmakers and sharks. They are the best sources for information and answers. The revelation gave me an angle from which to attack every subject I have covered since, no matter how complex.
This leads to my being Editorial Director of Footwear Plus and author of this column for nearly 20 years. I have never designed, manufactured or shipped a pair of shoes. Heck, I’m pleased when I get myself through customs, never mind getting a container load of shoes through. I have never owned, operated or worked in a shoe store. (For the record, I worked retail in a butcher’s shop for four years and learned that, regardless of whether you are slinging chops or Chukkas, many of the same customer service rules apply.) I’m far from a qualified retailer. I find a lot of my daughter’s 7th grade math challenging, so planning open-to-buys, balancing the books, managing inventory turns, negotiating leases and handling other aspects of running a retail operation would prove daunting for me. I would probably do everything wrong.
Instead, I’m a journalist. It’s my job to listen, ask the right questions and get the story straight—then write about it in a clear, accurate, informative, helpful and entertaining way. The last is the secret sauce, because no one wants to read boring articles, no matter how much research went into them. Looking back on nearly 250 issues as we put together our 25th commemorative industry retrospective, I can say with confidence that our editors have touched on nearly every meaningful theme, issue, category, trend and debate that arose in the past two and a half decades. And we have—since Vol. 1, Issue 1—done so in vivid color, spectacular design and entertaining prose.
Of course, none of it would have been possible without you—the experts—who have been our most valuable resource. This magazine couldn’t exist without your input and analysis, not to mention the brands and stores you create. A heartfelt thanks for making it all possible. Your creativity, intelligence and passion are inspiring. This dynamic industry offers endless variety and excitement for a journalist. Most fascinating of all are the people I write about. Getting to know you has been my biggest job reward.