A Service Hidden Inside a Magazine

When Baseline was founded four years ago this month, we did not look at the product we were about to produce as simply a print publication.

We saw it as a flashlight.

As we said in the very first “Starting Point” column, just after Sept. 11, 2001, this would be “a new kind of magazine, a crossbreed of in-the-field reporting, project templates, instructional takeaway and practical reference work.”

In effect, we set out to create a service for business leaders and technology executives who had to perform one of the toughest tasks in global enterprise today: deploy complex information systems, on which the success of their companies—and their careers—would depend.

In all these deployments, there had to be baseline expectations of not just what the technology “deliverables” should be, but what the financial returns had to be.

Thus, the name “Baseline” and the simple statement of what it would cover: “The Bottom Line in I.T.”

Our premise was that even the greatest executives needed help, every day, every week, every month, every year, to get their heads around and hands properly on the technology they would implement in their organizations.

We committed ourselves to “deep dives” that would illuminate how to best proceed to give personalized services to customers, as in “Avon Products: The Ultimate CRM Machine” in our first issue, or “Code Blue” in the following issue, a report that shed light on Kmart’s repeated attempts to properly implement supply chain software. That article appeared weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy.

At first, readers, advertisers and publishers kept pushing back at us, saying we couldn’t sustain this mix of in-depth reporting, financial modeling and technical examination. I wish we had a dollar for every time we were asked, before the first issue, if there could even be a second. That’s how big a challenge we put before ourselves, going after the intersection of money, technology and operations—and how corporations manage the combination.

Now, after Case No. 164, we don’t get that question anymore. What we get instead is this question: How can you justify the length of the stories you produce? In an age of 200-word Web shorts and 1,000-word magazine features, we are devoted to 5,000-word cover stories—plus planners, supplier dossiers and a whole host of other tools that actually help executives not just focus and lead their companies, but, quite simply, do their jobs.

Who cares? Our readers. Every time we ask them, they ask for more detail, not less. They have a huge thirst for practical information they can act on. That’s what we try to give, with our exhaustive reporting. And, then, the light we shine on it.

This service hidden in a magazine is now even a service outside a magazine. Baseline Business Information Services was born a couple of years ago out of demand for high-quality tools that calculate the costs and benefits of different technologies used by American corporations. That has been so successful, it will now bear the flag Ziff Davis Business Information Services.

Our approach is now being recognized by editors of other magazines. Last month, Baseline was named the Grand Neal winner at the 51st Annual Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Awards, the equivalent in the business press of the Pulitzers awarded to newspapers. The next day, Baseline was named a finalist for General Excellence in the National Magazine Awards, the Pulitzers of all magazinedom, from The New Yorker to Cook’s Illustrated to The Atlantic Monthly.

This is great. It means that folks beyond our small set of four-walled offices, low-walled cubicles and home offices are noticing what we do; and recognizing that we’re trying to fashion a new kind of service journalism.

But, in the end, the only eyes that really matter are those that belong to you, our readers.

Now, as we did when we published our first case study, we want you to find Baseline to be indispensable, month in, month out. If you don’t, we might as well turn off the light.

So, please, dear reader, tell us what to do next. We want to raise our own baseline. For you.