Chris Schwarz's Blog

Popular Woodworking’s Protector Steps Down

In the fall of 1996 I was running my own struggling newspaper with a partner in Kentucky’s capitol city. I was sleeping under my desk. I was working every weekend. I was not paying myself much.

All this was fine by me. But then my wife (also a newspaper journalist) and I had a baby. And so we decided to move to my wife’s hometown outside Cincinnati to carve out more stable lives for taking care of an infant.

I stumbled on a job listing for managing editor at Popular Woodworking magazine. The job seemed perfect for me. When I wasn’t running a newspaper, I was building furniture on our back porch and taking classes in woodworking at the University of Kentucky.

But to get the job, I had to get through Steve Shanesy, the editor of the magazine.

The office was in a different building in those days, and Steve’s office was a small windowless room in the basement of an old Coca-Cola plant. I wanted the job desperately, but I also didn’t want to look like I wanted the job desperately.  I played it cool until the very end of the interview when I blurted out:

“Look, I don’t get sick much. And I work very very hard, “ I said. “And I don’t have any weird diseases.”

Where did that come from? As I was driving home I crossed this magazine off my list. They’d never hire someone with Tourette syndrome.

But Steve hired me. And, more importantly, he became one of my biggest supporters and the protector of this magazine.

On Monday, Steve announced that he will be stepping down as publisher of this magazine and as the leader of our woodworking business efforts. You can read the entire story here. His last day as publisher will be at the end of April, and I wanted to take this opportunity to explain some things that have never been said:

If it weren’t for Steve, this magazine probably wouldn’t still be running.

I have the high-profile job with bylines, blogs and what-not. Steve’s world has been the nitty-gritty world of budgets, quarterly forecasts, corporate politics and circulation reports. It’s a much harder job than the one I have, but because Steve loves this magazine – that’s the only word for it – he has spent his days keeping the lights on at the magazine and protecting me and the other editors from a hail of flack as we retooled this publication into what it is today.

While there were a few times that Steve and I worried that the suits upstairs would close or sell this magazine, I also knew that Steve would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

When I started at this magazine, it was focused on craftier projects, and our bottom line was never where our company wanted it.

Today I sleep well at night. Even though times are tough for magazines in general, our woodworking division is both stable and highly profitable. On the day that Steve announced his decision to step down, he also released our Spring budget forecast numbers. And, as per usual, we were running smoothly – actually beating our budget numbers.

I know you don’t read my blog to hear about the business of running a magazine. You read it for the woodworking information (and the occasional off-color joke). But if it weren’t for Steve, you’d have to read some other less-funny blog. Or a blog that didn’t care as much about hand work. Or a blog written by a guy without a cool beard.

When Steve leaves this building on his last day as publisher – likely on one of his vintage motorcycles – he will be leaving behind a legacy that rarely gets trumpeted: He pulled this magazine out of the ditch, dusted it off, got it a new set of clothes and put it to work.

I’m going to miss him, and I hope that whoever replaces him has half his love for the craft and the magazine business. If they have that, we’ll be here for a long time to come.

Thanks Steve. For hiring me, believing in my nutty ideas (or pretending to) and for steering us through some difficult storms. You’ve earned some time off to rebuild motorcycles, do some turning (one of his forms is pictured above) and let someone else worry about our butts.

— Christopher Schwarz

11 thoughts on “Popular Woodworking’s Protector Steps Down

  1. Steve Shanesy

    Hey, Chris, thank you for a wonderful post. It really means a lot to me. We’ve had a good partnership over the years and accomplished a great deal. It hasn’t been easy– but what is?- but it has been good. There have been some pivotal moments on the journey. The late ’90’s when we decided to start seriously changing-up the magazine without getting clearance from “upstairs.” The fateful ride back from Charleston, WV when we hatched the concept of Woodworking Magazine. The decision to take the deep dive into hand tool woodworking when every other magazine treated the subject like a disease. Bringing on Megan as ME (just kidding, Megan). Figuring out just what a Woodworking In America event looked like. And on, and on . . . So, thank you for all your help, your hard work, your dedication, all the ideas you’ve brought to the table, your professionalism.

    And thank you readers, contributors and other friends in the business. It’s all- well, mostly all- been a wonderful experience.

    Steve

    Steve

  2. djcssl

    Thanks so much for the great ideas, how to’s and encouragements that are put into articles, blogs,and opinions expressed. Even the time it takes to answer email questions has made me say “this magazine truely cares about there readers success”.

    Thanks so much.

  3. netartsdave13

    This is a nice tribute to Steve, and I am sure that he deserves it. I hope that his successor is equally devoted to insuring that PW continues on it’s course of quality editorials and articles. But Chris, you and the other staff must also share the responsibility of building a great magazine. Without great writers and photographers and editors and etc., the magazine could have easily languished into the doldrums. So, all of you take your deserved bows, it has been the team that made this magazine what it is today. We all hope that it will continue to grow under the leadership of a new taskmaster; it will be interesting to see how it changes.

  4. Fred West

    I first met Steve at the WIA in Valley Forge and had the privilege of having him and Don Schroder to my house that Friday night for dinner. Steve struck me then and since as a very nice person with a great passion for Popular Woodworking. I have thought ever since meeting him that if I were to work for anyone it would be Steve.It is very hard for me to imagine Popular Woodworking without him. Although I only met him a couple of years ago, I had been reading his writings for years. Steve, you will be greatly missed. Fred

  5. rboe

    Old motorcycles?! Alright! He will not lack for something to do – other than woodworking… Thanks for letting in on one of the “hidden” movers and shakers that allows to still enjoy this site and the magazine. Salute.

  6. keithm

    Best of good fortune to Steve. I’ve known Steve longer than you, based on your description. And I think my contacts at F+W probably even pre-date PopWood. Steve took what was an obscure magazine (or maybe several of them) into the premier woodworking publication today. We’ll miss him, but he leaves a great legacy.

  7. blambertjr

    A great example of the thought you both put into woodworking and this magazine was your story about your road trip discussion that led to Woodworking Magzine.

    Thanks to both of you!

  8. Guy

    Because of Steve, and the great staff at the magazine – well, that’s why I love to read Popular Woodworking.

    By the way – If I want to read a blog by a guy with a really cool beard I read Peter Follansbee’s Joiner’s Notes.

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