James M. Berklan

A lot has happened over the last three decades in long-term care. Patient acuity has risen severely, pay and regulatory systems have changed dramatically, and provider giants have risen and vanished from the scene … The list goes on.

But one thing has remained constant, and you, dear reader, have been the better for it. Much better, believe me.

The perpetual presence since 1990 has been McKnight’s’ Editorial Director John O’Connor.

It was exactly 30 years ago today when the University of Illinois graduate, not far removed from a stint in the Marines, left his job at a weekly newspaper on Chicago’s South Side for the gritty world of senior care. He has been the editorial leader of McKnight’s for most of the years since, and has been the dean of long-term care journalists for much of that time.

All journalists covering this space and long-term care professionals have benefited from watching him at work. He’s a concise master of insightful stories and clever headlines. His current blog post at mcknights.com — “Liar, liar, pants on fire” — is a golden example. He has educated thousands of us, often much more than we might realize. That’s because he packs so much into a small space and makes it a breeze to read. “One sentence, one idea” is one of his secrets, he says. Maybe someday I’ll be bright enough to try it.

The dean of long-term care journalists holding a commemorative desk clock given to him by staff at a luncheon honoring his 30 years with McKnight’s.

You name a long-term care leader over the last three decades and John has interviewed or written about them. One might think that would pave the way to be a lapdog for his b2b audience. On the contrary. While appropriately seeking to help long-term care professionals succeed at their jobs, he’s never been afraid to call on the carpet even his loftiest readers. (Just ask the industry veteran who once asked John point-blank if he was wearing a flak jacket to the conference they were attending.) In fact, many a long-term care leader has felt both the joy and sting of one of John’s “The Big Picture” columns or blogs — sometimes in the same piece.

John has accordingly won many writing awards over the years — for blogs, reporting, analysis and more. The American College of Health Care Administrators once honored him as its Journalist of the Year, something that could happen repeatedly if the rules allowed.

Under John’s tutelage McKnight’s went from a teetering existence to a one-word powerhouse. He’s brought the profession its first independently produced e-newsletters; reference works for lenders, software providers and others; its first (and still only) Online Expos; and more special supplements than any 10 people can count on their fingers and toes. Of course, there also has been the expansion from a single, nursing home-oriented magazine to a full suite of senior living and caregiving publications (both print and digital), and much more.

John O’Connor (in characteristic white button-down shirt) surrounded by his current team of McKnight’s colleagues.

As a manager, John is known for not asking his staff to do anything he hasn’t already done himself. That often has meant rolling up his sleeves to perform some entry level writing or tasks, whether to fill in for someone on vacation or just to prove a new idea could work. Usually it’s involved a new plan or concept he came up with, too. 

When other people go to lunch, John goes to the library to read or research some aspect of the publishing business that fascinates him. That is to say, virtually everything about publishing.

Maybe it has something to do with all the coffee and Diet Coke he drinks each day. But something keeps the passion flowing in this congenial son of Irish immigrants. The oldest of nine children, John O’Connor has thankfully made us a part of his long-term care family for the last 30 years.

To that we can only say “thank you” — and may there be many more to come.

Executive Editor James M. Berklan first worked for John O’Connor 21 years ago, when he was the managing editor of another magazine that O’Connor supervised as a group editor.