Former Ad Age Editor Steve Yahn Dies at 69

Helped Found Crain's Chicago Business in 1978 and Edited Ad Age in the 1990s

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Steven Yahn.
Steven Yahn.

Steven Yahn, the first editor of Crain's Chicago Business and an editor of Advertising Age in the 1990s, died on June 28. He was 69.

Mr. Yahn had lived in recent years with Parkinson's disease, according to Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications and editor-in-chief of Ad Age and Crain's Chicago Business, who chose Mr. Yahn to launch Crain's Chicago Business.

Mr. Yahn was a charismatic and not-very-buttoned-down journalist who went on to become editor of Ad Age, where he had worked before, and the now-defunct Collector-Investor. He also helmed periodicals outside Crain Communications.

"I picked Steve as our first editor [at Crain's Chicago Business] because he was a high-energy, big-story guy as senior editor of Ad Age, and I thought he would do a great job of firing up the troops at our new publication," Mr. Crain said. "He didn't let me down."

First envisioned as a monthly, Crain's Chicago Business was launched as a weekly in mid-1978 when the demise of the Chicago Daily News provided a supply of experienced, job-seeking journalists. Mr. Yahn himself had worked at the afternoon newspaper, after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"He was a hard-news man," recalled Dan Miller, a Daily News alum and managing editor under Yahn. "I think Steve reminded Rance of what Rance was like."

With a lean staff, editors like Mr. Yahn and Mr. Miller wrote stories, too. Mr. Yahn was on the front page of the April 17, 1978, pilot issue, with a scoop about New York-based investment banking firms poised to open Chicago offices.

His work later that year, revealing Sears' five-year plan known internally as the Yellow Book, put Crain's on the map. The story rattled the department store chain, reporting that its management planned to "significantly pare" its domestic supplier base, revamp its distribution system and likely institute "chilling cutbacks" in its marketing ranks.

"Steve put together a 10-page report that quickly sold out at newsstands around town. When our story broke, Newsweek called us 'the cheeky young offshoot of Advertising Age,' " Crain said. Mr. Miller added, "It was clear that was the beginning of the slow, steady demise of Sears."

Before year-end, however, Mr. Yahn left the publication.

He was named executive editor at Ad Age in 1993 and became editor in 1994 when Fred Danzig retired after 10 years in the post.

"Steve brought his investigative reporting capabilities and scoop mentality to Ad Age as our editor, and our reporters benefitted from seeing how his aggressive tactics worked to uncover big stories," Mr. Crain said. "When Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City we put together a package on how that single act was destined to change consumer behavior forever."

Later, Mr. Yahn became editor at Editor & Publisher.

His first stint at Crain Communications began in 1973 as managing editor of Pensions & Investments; two years later he moved to Ad Age's New York bureau as senior editor-financial. The Janesville, Wis., native went on to edit the Pittsburgh Business Times and become business editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the New York Daily News.

In the late 1980s, according to his family, he moved to the coast of Maine, where he and brother-in-law Andrew Rock published Preview, a weekly lifestyle magazine.

"For years after he left our company Steve continued to dig hard for stories -- and he wanted to make sure our editors were on top of them, too," Mr. Crain said. "Just last May, he emailed me about the vast offshore tax haven data base called the Panama Papers, and he was very proud that one of his stories on the art market aspect of the tax havens scooped the New York Times."

He is survived by sons Adam, 27, and Chad, 20; his mother, Carolyn, and sister, Barbara, both of Rockford; and a brother, Kurt, who is a Chicago attorney.

Services are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Friday, preceded by visitation from 4 p.m., at the Edward F. Carter Funeral Home in Croton on Hudson, N.Y., where he had lived.

Steven Strahler is a reporter for Crain's Chicago Business.

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