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Sam Taylor: Folio Weekly’s controversial mystery man unveiled

By Linda Segall    

For the last 22 years, every Tuesday 139,000 readers have grabbed a free copy of Folio Weekly from racksSam Taylor placed in businesses throughout Northeast Florida. Most of those racks are empty long before Tuesday, when the new issue is published—a testament to the publication’s popularity. The loyalty of Folio Weekly’s readers can be traced to its founder—Sam Taylor, who recently handed over his responsibilities as publisher to David Brennan.

Throughout his tenure as publisher of the popular weekly, Taylor has never backed off controversy or hedged on digging for the truth, even if it meant “ruffling the feathers” of area business leaders or politicians.

He has also been a mystery man: He says his photograph has never been published locally , and he has shunned interviews and publicity. Because Folio Weekly is a sterling example of a small business success story, Jacksonville Small Business Advantage asked Taylor to talk with us and unveil how he made Folio Weekly the success it is.

Advantage: How did you get your start in publishing?

Taylor: When I was a young man, I earned my way through college by working in the shipyards in Norfolk, Va. I was earning very good money as an outside machinist, the guy who installs finished machined parts. I was making such good money that I never saw my future except in the shipyards, even after I got my degree. But, times changed. I got laid off. I thought, “What am I going to do now?” There was a newspaper 1,500 yards down the street. I walked down there and applied for a job. They hired me in advertising sales.

 

Advantage: So, you dipped your toe into publishing by selling advertising. How did that lead you to Jacksonville and the start of Folio Weekly?

Taylor: Back in the early 1980s, newspapers got muscle-bound. They had market share and pricing power. But, they realized there was an audience they weren’t reaching—active affluents. These are women and men who are so busy they don’t have time to read a seven-day-a week daily. They read it perhaps twice a week, maybe Saturday and Sunday. So, the active affluents were not being served by the dailies.

The newspaper needed a product for this market. One option was what eventually became Folio Weekly. The newspaper I worked for didn’t invent this format. It saw a market for it in Jacksonville, and the owners asked me to start it up here. That’s how I got here.

Advantage: Was it an immediate success?

Taylor: No, I failed! My bosses promoted me too fast. They assumed because I was good at one part of the business—advertising sales— I would be good at everything else—editorial, production, management, and business operations. They were wrong. I was 30 years old and didn’t know what I didn’t know. I did so poorly that the owners decided to sell Folio Weekly 33 months after I started it up.

Advantage: What kinds of mistakes did you make that caused the venture to fail at first?

Taylor: We hired too many people, and we didn’t pay them enough. We had legions of untrained, poorly motivated people. We had 20 start-up employees. We would have done much better with 11.

Another thing: I got smitten with the entrepreneurial thing called “let’s go shopping.” I went out and bought office stuff, but I wasn’t spending time meeting advertisers. I was busy, but I wasn’t busy on the right things. I didn’t need to pitch a product; I needed to find out what was working to add to their success or reduce their failure.

Advantage: Obviously something happened. Folio Weekly is a highly successful newspaper.

Taylor: Actually, Folio Weekly is not a newspaper. It is a newsprint magazine. There is a difference. News is technically ‘history in a hurry.’ We never had much news. Most of our editorial does not look back. It is “news you can use” of what will happen in our town during the coming week.

But, to answer your question, when the owners decided to sell, they couldn’t find a buyer. So, they ended up selling it to me and one of my co-workers, a buddy of mine. We bought it on March 15, 1991. We made it profitable one year after buying it, and it’s been profitable ever since.

How did we do it? Well, you can see I am 5 feet 5 inches tall. I walked around like a rooster; I made stuff happen. So as soon as I bought the business I laid off every department manager and got costs down. With the operating losses we had time to improve the publication.

Advantage: How as Folio Weekly changed over the years?

Taylor: At first we started with food, fashion, festivals, fitness, and fun. We published on Tuesday, because we wanted to give our readers time to plan their weekend. But, those active affluents—our 25- to55-year-old audience—wanted more. They wanted victims, villains, and heroes. So that’s what we gave them. At first we went out to find our stories. Then, all of a sudden folks who felt like they were being mistreated started calling us. We got into investigative journalism, which neither the TV stations couldn’t handle, and the newspapers never had much stomach for it.

Advantage: What makes your audience so loyal?

Taylor: We have two types of readers: interested readers and determined readers. Interested readers don’t see many of the articles. They look at the horoscope; they really into the food, fashion, festivals, fitness, and fun part of the paper.

Determined readers read 11 pages or more and dig deeper. They are the ones who are looking for the stories on villains, victims, and heroes. And they are the ones who pushed us to go one more notch—to give opinions. Once you get people to check in as citizens, they are interested in opinion. Opinion is like a knife sharpener. You sharpen your knives by taking metal off the edge. You sharpen a citizen’s ability to be incisive by buffing back what they think is true. What’s left is the original point of view, but sharper. When they read Folio, even if they say ‘Folio is full of crap,’ they are better informed. That what citizenship needs. That’s what we give them.

Advantage: What stories stick out in your mind for stirring up controversy?

Taylor: We did a story on a hospital incinerator that wasn’t properly loaded. It wasn’t burning right; it was polluting the air. The hospital said, “How dare you say something like that?” We ran a piece on a megachurch. The minister didn’t like it, and he tried to rattle my editor’s cage. And then there was one on how the Marines recruit. The story was about how the military was not living up to its promises after it got people to sign up. A Marine was upset about the story and came in here. He was outraged that we would publish something like that.

Advantage: You are perceived as a liberal paper in a conservative part of the country. Your editorial content stirs up a lot of controversy. How do you deal with it?

Taylor: For this part of the country, we are perceived as liberal because we are in a relatively conservative area. If you were to take Folio Weekly and publish it in New England, we would look much less liberal.

But to answer your question, if somebody in a story feels like they’ve been wronged, it’s important. We do our homework; we check facts. If we are wrong, we will say so and we will run a correction, but that doesn’t happen often. Usually complaints come because people don’t like what we’ve published. If we don’t believe we were wrong, we tell them they can write a letter to the editor, and if they don’t think a letter is enough “real estate” in the paper, we’ll give them a full page.

The exercise is for us to get it right. We don’t get sued very often, and we’ve never spent a day in court in 22 years, due to our editorial integrity and editorial humbleness.

Advantage: You started this paper. A few months ago, you stepped aside. Why? And what are you going to do now?

Taylor: I trained my replacement. He was ready to take over, so it was time for me to go away. He’s doing a great job. Now I can turn to my other passion—restoring old motorcycles. I have a comfort level in doing that, it’s like going back home, using skills I learned when I worked in the shipyard. I’ll continue to do restoration as a hobby.

I’ve restored some Japanese bikes from ’60s and ’70s. A reader who lives in Japan told me the Japanese want their bikes back, so I am going to Japan in the fall to set up some trade pipelines.

I am a very lucky man..

Folio Weekly (www.folioweekly.com) is published on Tuesdays. Its offices are located at 9456 Philips Highway, Ste. 11, Jacksonville, FL 32256. Linda Segall is editor of Jacksonville Small Business Advantage.

 

SIDEBAR

Taylor’s tips for small business success

Taylor told Jacksonville Small Business Advantage, “After 35 years of doing what I do, I’ve found that one-third of what I thought was true is true; one-third I thought was true, was true then but is not any longer; and one-third I thought was true was never true.” With those words of wisdom, here are some of Taylor’s success tips:

• Train, don’t reprimand. “Early in my career, I was taught to set goals, praise in public, and reprimand in private. I found out that was bad advice. Setting goals and praising in public were good. But a manager should take ‘reprimand’ out of his tool box. If somebody screws up, look at it as a training opportunity.

• Learn your customers. “When you are first starting out, spend time with your customers. Find out what you can do to make them successful. That’s why you are in business.”

• Hire well, pay well. “Hire good people and pay them a fair salary, even if you are just starting up. If you hire mediocre people, you will get mediocrity.”

• Be kind, not correct. If you have a choice between being kind or being correct, choose being kind. Doing so will maintain personal relationships while you work on perfecting the task.


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