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Decade of Diversion

10/4/2011 8:11:00 AM
A Decade of Diversion: Kudos draws success out of challenging times

Raquel Hendrickson
Kudos Co-editor and Writer


It seemed a peculiar time to be launching a new publication.

Less than a month earlier, terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Center, changing the world and driving markets into the cellar. Some businesses, big and small, shut down. Others went into a holding pattern.

At Verde Valley Newspapers, however, staff members were looking forward to introducing a new arts and entertainment supplement to its readers. It would highlight, simply put, "the good life." But the erratic economy added more than a little drama to the Oct. 3, 2001, launch of Kudos.

"Our ad representatives had been doing a lot of the leg work well in advance, so a lot of the sales work was already done by 9/11," said Dick Larson, who was VVN publisher at the time. "From the beginning, from the first issue, it made money, and that's rare in this business."

The seed for Kudos was planted when Larson saw an award-winning, twice-weekly entertainment insert in an Iowa newspaper.

"It was a similar concept, more based around events, with light news content and happenings in the community," Larson said. "It was really well done, in tabloid form, with large photos. That kind of triggered the idea for something based on entertainment and, because it's Sedona, art."

While VVN had a Friday A&E page, a full arts product was something that was not available in Sedona but seemed a natural fit.

Larson discussed the idea with staff. To test the market, they quietly and informally called around and asked potential readers what they would think about an arts and entertainment publication mailed to their home every week.

Response was positive, strong enough for VVN to move forward in creating a publication that would be total market coverage. It was going to meet demands of both advertisers and readers who wanted to know what was happening in a happening town. People needed diversion in very challenging times.

The sudden dip in the economy and the national morale just before the launch did not quell enthusiasm for a publication to fill the void that was long felt in the community. Kudos launched with the Sedona Sculpture Walk on the cover along with a blurb for Chamber Music Sedona.

Ten years later, events and organizations have come and gone, and Kudos has continued to evolve and adjust to the changing times in its mission to be the go-to magazine for arts and entertainment.

In fact, that was the first challenge facing Michelle Borgwardt, who was hired after the first year to be the editor of Kudos. Not just an editor, Borgwardt worked to spread the word about Kudos, attending events and chamber mixers, and networking to build business contacts.

She had come off of two years of covering hard news and was excited about reporting on the good that people do and the creative side of life.

"My goal for Kudos was to become the leading resource for entertainment and art in the Verde Valley/Sedona," she said. "I feel we achieved that and more, expanding to include travel features, poetry, dancers and other obscure genres. Kudos became an all-ages forum for all artists, of which I'm proud to be a part."

Brainstorming and feedback from staff, contributors and advertisers led to the inclusion of theater previews and reviews, book reviews and best-seller lists.

She had to make clear that Kudos was about "leisure activities, arts, entertainment, music, travel getaways and festivals" in the Sedona/Verde Valley area. It was not to be about local politics or serve as a community news forum.

"It took repeating Kudos' mission before readers began to realize if you want to know what's happening, read Kudos," Borgwardt said.

If Borgwardt came after the beginning of Kudos, film reviewer David Kanowsky was on board before the beginning. He had begun writing film reviews for Verde Valley Newspapers in 1999. That started at a dinner with neighbors Dick and Kathy Larson when a discussion about Patch Adams turned into Kanowsky's comparisons of Robin Williams films. Kathy told him he should be writing reviews for the newspaper, something Kanowsky, a lifelong film buff, was delighted to do, for his own pleasure.

When Kudos launched, Kanowsky's column moved from the A&E page to quickly became a staple of the new publication. It was also the motivation for staff to connect with movie studios and build movie previews into the product and even music previews.

Kudos expanded Kanowsky's office twofold.

"For me, it's been great," he said. "It's just such a pleasure and to some extent its like an ego boost. It's really a labor of love for me."

As readers and artists understood what Kudos was all about, editorial contributions began flowing in, creating a challenge for Borgwardt to both find reputable sources and to match overflowing content with limited space.

Larson said the submitted content itself began to change the focus of the publication to more entertainment.

"Another challenge was affirming journalistic integrity; that even a weekly tab adheres to high journalistic standards," Borgwardt said. "I think Kudos set the bar for what a weekly community tabloid should be."

Over the years, Kudos has featured the famous and the relatively unknown, musicians, artists, dancers, actors and community events on its covers. For performers and shows coming through town, word quickly go out that they had to be in Kudos if they expected to succeed.

Borgwardt said it was "rewarding to cover burgeoning artists and musicians who have gone onto bigger things. I also made some lifelong friends who have enriched my life."

Larson always talks about moving on to the next thing, which is what both he and Borgwardt have done, Larson to Prescott Newspapers Inc. and Borgwardt to Western Art Collector and American Art Collector magazines. Both look back on their work on Kudos with professional pride.

"I learned that smaller communities like Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Jerome or Sedona can pack a lot of talent and should be appreciated and that everyone has a story to tell," Borgwardt said.

Larson points out that there were many people involved in the creation and development of Kudos.

"It really was one of the best team efforts that I've been associated with," he said. "I'm pleased with it. I appreciate my involvement with it."

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