By Sean Perry
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
As summer in the Mid-Atlantic region heats up the Chesapeake Bay’s salty water, middle-aged John Stefancik loves to set out on his 20-foot powerboat with his three children – unless he is in Annapolis busily publishing a magazine known to many in the region.
Stefancik, who grew up just north of the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’ on the Severn River, recalled having Chesapeake Bay Magazine laying around his house during his childhood. He often dreamed of working for the publication.
Today, he doesn’t just work for it, he’s an owner.
“I kind of feel like I hit the jackpot,” Stefancik laughed.
“My dream was always to figure out a way to combine my passion of boating on the Chesapeake with what I wanted to do for a job, which was to be in media,” Stefancik said. “All of my passion[s] are things that happen on the Chesapeake.”
Stefancik has fond memories of his childhood with two supportive parents, a younger brother and a comfortable life.
“We’d sail. We’d water ski. We’d go tubing. We’d go picnicking, and we’d take the boat out to Annapolis to get ice-cream,” he recalled.
Stefancik remembered how his mother would joke that because “I hated hard work … you better make a living with your head because you certainly aren’t going to make it with your back.”
“I think I proved her wrong,” he said. “That was a hell of a motivator for me.”
Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s photography drew Stefancik into its pages. The more he studied those pictures the more he became interested in media. He quickly developed a passion for photography, he said.
While in high school, Stefancik worked “hardcore” on the photo yearbook for three years and wanted to pursue his passion for media in college.
“That’s what I chose in high school, that’s what I did in my free time,” he said.
Stefancik also worked a side job for contractors throughout high school and college.
“Mostly because I got to be outside all the time,” he laughed.
When choosing a college, Stefancik said, “I was choosing them based on what kind of media programs they had. Towson University immediately became a favorite because of the school’s mass communications program and he said he “excelled in small groups.”
At Towson, Stefancik was an editor at the university’s paper, The Towerlight.
“I worked for the newspaper all the time,” he said.
After graduating from Towson in 1992, Stefancik married his high school sweetheart after dating seven years.
“She has been just a steady influence in my life,” he said.
Stefancik said he began his career working for a year at an arts marketing company that needed help with its events. After that, he worked for a public relations professional he had connected with at an event on Towson’s campus. Eventually, he returned to the arts company and worked for its magazine division.
By networking, Stefancik found a job at Chesapeake Bay Magazine. He worked for the magazine 14 years before buying the media company with his coworkers.
As an owner, Stefancik said there were two things that needed to be changed. First, the group changed the writing style of the editorial team.
“They wrote fantastic feature stories in print and they didn’t touch any of the business in our market place at all,” Stefancik said. “In a small, vertical market like ours you just can’t accept that.”
Now Stefancik said the editorial team is more involved in reporting on the marketplace and in a fair way that would maintain subscribers’ trust.
The second change made at the magazine dealt with the media, which was 90 percent in print, across digital media in addition to print.
“Those are the two biggest changes,” said Stefancik, who describes himself as “approachable and I’m friendly … easy to work with.”
If anything, Stefancik said he needs to work on being more decisive and relaxed.
The changes have enabled the magazine staff to take advantage of the unique sense of community surrounding residents of the Chesapeake Bay, a characteristic that Stefancik said he loves most about the magazine. Stefancik predicted a bright future for the magazine.
“We’re the thing that ties the whole Chesapeake Bay together,” Stefancik said. “What I’d like to see in 10 years is when anybody thinks of the Chesapeake Bay at all, they think of Chesapeake Bay Magazine.”