Thirty Years at the Helm

For a look at the JofA through the eyes of those who helped create it, we brought together current editor and publisher Colleen Katz and former editors Barbara J. Shildneck and Lee Berton to reminisce about their collective three decades at the top of the masthead.

Lee Berton, editor from 1975 to 1983: When I was editor, technology was becoming an important issue—Arthur Andersen was already selling technology products and software. When it spun off its consulting practice, people realized that was the wave of the future. But I don’t think anyone recognized what a huge change it would make.

Standards overload has been another issue through all of our tenures. In many cases, whatever the accountants did to keep up with new business practices, someone found fault with—so litigation became an issue, too. If you look at the history of the stock market, it always fluctuates. In the early 1960s, no one blamed accountants when stocks did well—but when stocks went down, accountants became codefendants.

CPAs face an overwhelming number of professional and technical developments, and the JofA has always spelled out what they need to know. CPAs get information that you wouldn’t receive in other publications, details about the issues of greatest importance to the profession. As an example, during my tenure, when derivatives first emerged, the JofA reported about indications of problems in this area. We noted that some of them were so complicated, people couldn’t figure out whether they were debt or equity.

Barbara J. Shildneck, editor from 1983 to 1987: It’s fascinating to see how issues evolved during the profession’s first century, and how much they’ve changed just since the AICPA’s 1987 centennial. For that celebration, the JofA published an award-winning issue (May 1987), which was a status report of the profession’s first 100 years. In its 100-year history, the JofA has provided an ongoing forum for the exchange of ideas; reported on current events and technology; and presented the latest technical literature, professional standards and government and tax legislation, as well as their practical applications. It served as a testing ground for controversial subjects, technical innovations and policy decisions. It broke ground in covering the CPA angle on economic and societal issues.

I was the editor when we began getting some very advanced technology stories. Dana Richardson in particular was an author who was on top of everything. At a seminar he talked about Apple’s Lisa [Lisa, introduced in 1983, was considered revolutionary] ; the roomful of people was fascinated. In very short order, more and more people recognized that computers would become very important to accountants.

We also saw the emergence of international standards, something the profession has been working on since the 1960s. We ran a lot of news about these developments, but we received very few feature articles because there was not yet a great deal of practical application. Apropos of this Lee Berton is right on the mark when he says: “International issues are important at many levels, but here at home many small firm clients are the corner auto dealers. They don’t rely on complicated financial reports. They need a CPA to act as a business doctor to help them.”

Colleen Katz, editor since 1988: Two particularly important things happened early in my tenure. First, CPAs became more attuned to marketing, and practice development and expansion became a regular part of our coverage. Initially, some readers said we were focusing on it too much. Now, of course, it’s an accepted part of practice management.

The biggest change, however, was the total takeover by technology. In our coverage, we decided to publish very simplified directions that told readers exactly how to use software products. We got flooded with letters thanking us for offering understandable instructions. Although the tech people in the profession were very savvy, the average reader just couldn’t keep up with the tremendous technology onslaught.

Several key developments influenced the JofA’s content. The emergence of the PFS, ABV and CITP designations recognized specific skills and allowed CPAs to move into related fields while still keeping their core franchise. Also, responding to the profession’s changing demographics, the JofA expanded coverage of industry sectors when the number of members in these areas grew to a majority. And when women accounting graduates regularly outnumbered men, the JofA began coverage of work/life balance, recruiting and retention and other staffing initiatives that to this day remain vitally important to firms large and small.

The two biggest issues have always been the proliferation of standards—we’ve always considered it imperative to explain how to implement them—and the expectations gap. People are always expecting accountants to uncover what could be so well-hidden it’s undiscoverable.

Despite all the challenges small practitioners are probably stronger today than they ever were. We always focused on helping CPAs in small firms and small companies understand the impact of new developments—that’s been an important part of our mission. Small business owners always say they love their accountants. And what is America made up of but small businesses? For them, the CPA is absolutely the most important business adviser. Corporate scandals never affected that fact. The public has a solid respect for CPAs .

Tooting Our Own Horn
Through the years the Journal of Accountancy has been recognized many times for its editorial excellence. Here’s a sample of some of our more recent achievements.

1989
Gold Circle Award for Excellence in Communication in the Category of Magazines, given by the American Society of Association Executives and its Communication Section.

1990
Apex Award for Publication Excellence, given by Communications Concepts for the most improved magazine or journal.

Publishing Excellence Award, given by MagazineWeek for maintaining the highest standards in the definition, recognition and achievement of an editorial mission.

Publishing Excellence Award Nomination Certificate, nominated by MagazineWeek as one of the best magazines in the category for maintaining the highest standards in the definition, recognition and achievement of an editorial mission.

Society of National Association Publications First Place Award for general excellence in magazines with advertising revenues over $400,000.

1992
MagazineWeek Editorial Excellence Finalist Award for editorial excellence.

1993
Apex Award for Publication Excellence, given by Communications Concepts for subscription magazines and journals.

1997
Society of National Association Publications First Place Award for general excellence in magazines with advertising revenues over $1,000,000.

1999
Apex Award for Publication Excellence, given by Communications Concepts for magazines and journals—printed.

International Federation of Accountants’ Articles of Merit Award for “ Accounting the Digital Way ” by Scott M. Boggs ( JofA , May99, page 99).

2001
Golden Page Award, given by Emerald Reviews for excellence in covering practical implications in the accounting and finance areas—an international competition.

2002
Golden Page Award, given by Emerald Reviews for excellence in covering managerial application in accounting and finance—an international competition.

2003
International Federation of Accountants’ Articles of Merit Award for “ Ensuring Ethical Effectiveness ” by Randy Myers ( JofA , Feb.03, page 28) and for “ Maximize Your Global IP ” by Michael W. Hardgrove and Alex Voloshko ( JofA , Apr.03, page 43).

University of Tennessee accounting educators ranked the JofA first of 58 business publications for its broad reach among readers, based on responses to a survey of 94 CPA firms nationwide.

Roughly 2,000 independent tax professionals ranked the JofA second for its broad reach among readers, based on research conducted by Tiburon Strategic, H.D. Vest Financial Services and the National Association of Enrolled Agents.

2005
Tabbie Awards Honorable Mention for the JofA’s Fraud Beat, given by Trade Association Business Publications International.

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