Obituary: Bernie Knill

By Warren Hersch
ASBPE President

As more trade magazines focus limited resources on realizing a Web-first or platform agnostic strategy, B2B editors are finding it harder to dedicate time to in-depth investigative reporting and to championing positions that can profoundly impact the industries they cover. That’s unfortunate, because such game-changing content helps editors build a loyal readership, distinguish their publications, and win editorial awards.

Bernie Knill, who passed away on Jan. 22 at age 82, understood this as well as anyone else. As ASBPE’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2000 and the former editor-in-chief of Material Handling Management, Knill built a reputation for such cutting-edge editorial and industry advocacy during his 43-year tenure at MHM, starting in 1957 and ending with his retirement in 2000.

The B2B editor as advocate

One cause to which Knill dedicated himself for more than a decade was regulatory relief for manufacturers of vertical reciprocating conveyors (including freight elevators and various types of lifts). When state elevator inspectors sought to mandate the same safety and operating standards for VRCs that applied to passenger elevators, Knill swung into action.

He authored a monthly column, the “Red Tag Report,” that explained how the inspectors were illegally depriving VRC buyers of low-cost alternatives to expensive freight elevators. Knill’s advocacy on behalf of the industry played a part in rolling back the worst of the state practices.

Knill’s award-winning editorial proved crucial in exposing other industry problems. Among them: software snafus that plagued the luggage-handling system at the newly opened Denver International Airport in the early 1990s; and the need for equipment- and site-specific training for lift truck operators. Spurred by Knill’s reporting and the combined efforts of industry and government, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training Standard.

“Bernie was very much an industry advocate,” says Tom Andel, Knill’s successor as MHM’s editor-in-chief from 2000 to 2005. “He had a good instinct for what was important to his audience. He knew how to connect the problem at issue with industrial material handling in a way that made for compelling reporting.”

And, it seems, with an ease that would be the envy of any B2B editor. In the pre-computer era, adds Andel, Knill would compose an article in his head before typing it, without the mental anguish that so often attends writer’s block.

Award-winning mentor

He was also, says Andel, a role model for his staff, guiding them on the tools and techniques of cutting-edge reporting. The mentoring had the desired effect: During his tenure, MHM won five Neal awards. In 1992, the material handling industry honored Knill with the Reed-Apple Award — the industry’s highest honor. That same year, the Material Handling Management Society presented him with the William T. Shirk Award for outstanding service and contributions to the field.

Bernie Knill, in sum, leaves behind a lifetime of achievement — and an example to live by. The material handling field, and we in the B2B editorial community, are forever indebted to him.

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