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May 2005: The More We Change

May 1, 2005

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” aptly describes many organizations, especially nonprofit ones. Year after year, they go about their business in much the same way as before, only doing a little more of this and less of that.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” aptly describes many organizations, especially nonprofit ones. Year after year, they go about their business in much the same way as before, only doing a little more of this and less of that.

The Heartland Institute has never fallen into that pattern. It has changed in fundamental ways, sometimes quite quickly, though we have never lost sight of the free-market ideas that animate everything we do. This Heartlander essay is devoted to bringing you up-to-date on our latest changes and what we are doing now.

From State-Specific to National

Back in 1984, when The Heartland Institute was founded in Chicago, it focused on addressing Chicago and Illinois public policy issues. We were a “think tank for Illinois.”

Within a few years, though, we were asked to address issues and send publications to policymakers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri. Soon we were operating six staffed offices in five states (Missouri had two offices, in St. Louis and Kansas City).

Our experiences in five states convinced us that a niche existed for a free-market think tank aimed at reaching all 7,500 state elected officials in the U.S. Few of the national free-market groups sent their publications to state legislators, yet this was an incredibly influential audience. State legislators oversee more than $1 trillion in spending each year, and many state elected officials eventually run for higher office.

Funding to support a larger network of staffed offices didn’t appear to be forthcoming, so we gradually closed the state offices, consolidated our staff in Chicago, and set about reinventing ourselves as the preeminent marketer of free-market research and commentary to the nation’s state elected officials.

Reaching Elected Officials

In 1992 and 1993 we met with many state legislators to find out why our publications weren’t having more of an impact. They told us in no uncertain terms what we were doing wrong. We were sending them “the wrong publications at the wrong time,” and since they lacked staff and the time to keep and file background research, they simply threw our publications away, unread.

When we asked them, “where do you get the information you need?” the answer we heard most often was, “newspapers.” Most state legislators subscribe to two or three daily newspapers, and their party leaders send them thick collections of clippings.

We set aside the policy studies and books that traditional think tanks produce and invented the public policy newspaper: Twenty pages of news and commentary on a set of public policy issues, written in a news style and indistinguishable in layout and appearance from a “real” newspaper.

Today we publish four monthly public policy newspapers–School Reform News, Environment & Climate News, Health Care News, and Budget & Tax News--plus a monthly newsletter on telecom issues titled IT&T News. This means every state and national elected official in the country gets a publication from us about once every week.

A phone survey conducted late last year found 84 percent of state legislators read Heartland publications, more than the publications of any other think tank. Nearly half (47 percent) said a Heartland publication influenced their opinion or led to a change in public policy.

Personnel Changes

Heartland now has a full-time staff of 12, five editors, one senior editor, and four senior fellows, for a total staff of 22. Besides me and Vice President Diane Bast, Administrative Assistant Cheryl Parker has the longest tenure, followed by COO Latreece Vankinscott and Associate Publisher Nikki Comerford.

The past year has seen numerous arrivals and departures. John Skorburg, the founding editor of Budget & Tax News, was replaced by Steve Stanek, a Chicago-based freelance writer. George Clowes retired after nine years as managing editor of School Reform News and was replaced by Karla Dial, a journalist and freelance writer based in Colorado Springs.

Conrad Meier retired as managing editor of Health Care News in September 2004 and was replaced by Susan Konig, a health writer in New York. We were all shocked when, in March, Conrad suffered a stroke and then died of complications on March 19. (See pages 6 and 7.)

We recruited Steven Titch to be managing editor of IT&T News, our newest monthly publication aimed at state elected officials. (“IT&T” stands for information technology and telecommunications.) Maureen Martin was retained to edit Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly.

Heartland beefed up its editorial staff by hiring Sam Karnick, formerly publications director for the Hudson Institute, where he was co-founder and editor in chief of the organization’s quarterly magazine, American Outlook. He is now senior editor of Heartland’s four monthly newspapers.

Allen Fore left Heartland in July to join the U.S. Department of Education; he was replaced by Nicholas Tyszka. Graphic designer Ross Van Overberghe left in October to join the family business in Indiana. Long-time art director Kevin Fitzgerald left Heartland in February of this year for a well-deserved better-paying position in the for-profit sector. Before he left he recruited and trained Elizabeth Ow and Amy McIntyre to take up the art department’s responsibilities.

What’s Coming Up

Thanks to a large contribution we received in April, we will add 8,546 mayors and city council members in the 362 largest U.S. cities to the complimentary mailing list for all four of our monthly newspapers. We will also add 21,000 public school board members, charter school principals, and private school board presidents to the complimentary mailing list of School Reform News, bringing the circulation of that particular publication up to 70,000.

The managing editors are working to produce more news-oriented stories written by a wider variety of authors. We are getting more photos of elected officials in the news, in response to expert advice that such pictures will attract more readers.

Because newspapers are likely to be read and discarded, rather than kept for later reference, we have started to supplement them with small books (called “chapbooks” in the trade). They are inexpensive to produce and mail, not as long and off-putting as a “real” book, and easy to keep on hand--on a desk, in a briefcase, or on a night stand--for later reference.

We also have begun hosting “Heartland Capital Forums” in state capitals around the country, bringing state legislators together with our growing network of managing editors, senior fellows, and policy advisors as well as authorities drawn from other think tanks.

We are also ever-alert to opportunities to take advantage of events that make it possible to reach key audiences that would otherwise be beyond our reach. Two examples are our presence at the National Association of Attorneys General meeting in Chicago in January and capitalizing on the public attention to the “global warming” debate generated by Michael Crichton’s newest novel, State of Fear, by posting a defense of his scientific claims on our Web site ( and distributing op-eds and letters to the editor.

Members and Donors

If you are already a Heartland donor or member, I thank you for helping to make this extraordinary organization possible. If you haven’t given yet, I hope you decide to do so soon.

Heartland raised $2.0 million last year from about 1,500 donors and spent $1.99 million. We have no endowment or even a rainy day fund. We operate flat-out, devoting every penny we raise to our program.

We will welcome your support, along with your advice on how we can continue to improve our efforts to help advance the cause of individual liberty.

Joseph L. Bast ( is president of The Heartland Institute.

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Joseph Bast is a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. He cofounded Heartland in 1984, serving as executive director then as president & CEO until January 2018. His research and writing focuses on climate change and energy policy. @JosephLBast