ArcNews: 33 Years and Counting

I was sitting in Jack Dangermond’s conference room waiting to be interviewed for a position at Esri. It was October 1989, and I was already a huge fan of ArcNews, anxiously awaiting the arrival of each issue in the mail and immediately reading it from cover to cover. So what a thrill to be handed a copy of the Fall 1989 issue, hot off the press, and told “This is so new, Jack hasn’t even seen it yet.”

Remember newsprint?  The Fall 1989 issue of ARC News (in its tenth year), announcing the Digital Chart of the World contract.

Remember newsprint? The Fall 1989 issue of ARC News (in its tenth year), announcing the Digital Chart of the World contract.

In walked Jack, extending his hand and introducing himself. His eyes immediately wandered down to my reading material and he blurted out “IS THAT THE NEW ARCNEWS?” He grabbed it, sat down, and spent about 5 minutes thumbing through the magazine.  At one point, remembering I was still in the room, Jack looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry, but this is the only thing that gets me high.”

Today, ArcNews is read by at least 800,000 people every quarter.  But its beginnings were much more humble. The first issue of what was to become ArcNews was sent to users in 1979. Just three pages long, it was accompanied by an introductory two-page memo from Jack and then-editor Bill Matteson outlining the purpose of the newsletter:

That first issue of the Esri Newsletter included brief notices concerning “turnkey hardware / software systems,” “corridor location suitability,” and “new digitizing technology."

That first issue of the Esri Newsletter included brief notices concerning “turnkey hardware / software systems,” “corridor location suitability,” and “new digitizing technology.”

“Several organizations we’ve worked with recently have expressed their interest in ongoing, free flowing communications between themselves and ESRI. The attached newsletter is intended to be a step in that direction.

“We hope that it will be a forum for sharing and that the communication channel will be a ‘two-way street.’ We want you to know what we’ve accomplished in the way of new technology and new experience that may benefit you. On the other hand, we are anxious to know about your uses of our technology, what needs or ideas you have, and whether there is something we can do to support you.”

While ArcNews has stayed true to its principles, it has continually evolved through many different sizes, formats, and designs both on paper and digitally, and long ago attained the distinction of becoming the largest circulation, longest running, continuously published periodical devoted to GIS. And it has always been distributed free of charge.

Hands On: Jack is still intimately involved with every issue of ArcNews.

Hands On: Jack is still intimately involved with every issue of ArcNews.

As Esri has grown, we’ve added publications (such as ArcUser, ArcWatch, and numerous industry-specific newsletters). With dozens of publications and thousands of employees, Jack obviously can’t be as hands-on as he was when the company had just one publication (and a few hundred employees). But one thing that has not changed over the years is Jack’s involvement in ArcNews. “He personally reviews every page thoroughly as it moves through the editorial and production processes and often makes substantive editorial changes that communicate more precisely his views of the moment,” notes Tom Miller, editor of the last 67 issues of ArcNews.

The legacy of ArcNews is a long track record of educating people—not just about Esri software, but about the potential for GIS to transform processes and organizations. “Time and again I’ve seen that ArcNews stories can spark a thought or a connection in readers outside the industry that an article is about, so that suddenly they see a possible solution to some problem they themselves have,” Tom shared. “This reflects Jack’s vision of the purpose of Esri—to help our users discover what others are doing and what they can accomplish through the power of GIS—and then to share their discoveries.”

Body of Work: Editor Tom Miller with the 67 issues of ArcNews he has produced.

Body of Work: Editor Tom Miller with the 67 issues of ArcNews he has produced.

“GIS does a lot of amazing things,” Tom added. “What else can it do? What new applications can be discovered? How can it help me? Who has already solved a problem using GIS? Networking, sharing solutions, inspiring new solutions. That is what ArcNews does.”

Thirty-three years…and counting.  What does the future hold for ArcNews? Will it move to an online-only publication? “Online is not a goal,” said Monica Pratt, ArcUser editor and Esri’s publications team lead, “it’s one of the ways we communicate with readers. We are evolving our publications to provide timely, useful information delivered attractively in a variety of formats so as to be most useful to our readers. Those formats include print versions that are being iteratively redesigned, digital flipbook and html, and potentially some mobile platforms.”

What do you think?  How would you like to see ArcNews evolve?

[Through the years: Compare the Esri newsletter/ArcNews magazine from 1979, 1984, and today]

Matt Artz

About Matt Artz

Matt Artz joined Esri in 1989. In his current role as GIS and Science Manager, he helps communicate the value of GIS as a tool for scientific research and understanding. He writes extensively about geospatial technologies, manages the GIS and Science blog, and is the editor of GIS.com. Prior to joining Esri he worked as an Environmental Scientist at a large science and engineering consulting company, on such diverse projects as highway noise modeling, archaeological impact assessment, and chemical weapons disposal. His educational background includes an M.S. degree in Environmental Policy and Planning and a B.S. degree in Anthropology and Geography.
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4 Comments

  1. joabelb says:

    What amazing story.
    Congratulations for the 33 years of exciting news!! (Please keep it in paper too).

    Joabel from Sao Paulo, Brazil

  2. Denise62 says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I read ArcNews cover to cover and was tickled to learn Jack is just as excited as readers to get the newest version.

    Denise K, Charlotte

  3. Tarun_Jaiswal says:

    Congratulations!

    I’m fairly a new reader of ArcNews but, enjoy every bit of it all the time.

    Tarun J, Redlands

  4. Roose says:

    Hi Tom:

    I started working professionally with Esri software at about the same time as you became the ArcNews editor. A couple of years ago, I went through all the issues that I had religiously kept in my library and was amazed at how well its cover page reflected the technological changes we have gone through.

    With so many technical developments and so many sources of information, the ArcNews cover page remains a focal point, and the whole publication a pleasure to read.

    Thank you,
    Denis Roose
    Edgetech America, Inc.