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A Local Life: Peter Andrew Banks

Publisher Moved His Field Miles Ahead

At age 40, Peter Banks started running marathons to raise money for diabetes. He also became coach of a running program for youngsters, wanting to help them become more confident.
At age 40, Peter Banks started running marathons to raise money for diabetes. He also became coach of a running program for youngsters, wanting to help them become more confident. (Family Photo)

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Peter Banks was regarded as a rare innovator in association publishing, an industry stereotyped as offering magazines that appear little more than a member-benefit throwaway.

Yet in his 20-year career as a publishing executive with the American Diabetes Association -- notably overseeing its flagship magazine, Diabetes Forecast -- Banks distinguished himself.

He championed journalism principles more associated with for-profit magazines: attractive layouts, sprightly features and thoughtful editorial coverage of scientific developments.

"He's made the members-only association publication a pass-along phenomenon," Folio, the magazine publishing trade journal, wrote of Banks last year when Folio placed him among the 40 most-influential leaders in his field.

Folio said Diabetes Forecast's members-only subscriptions were about 460,000 but actual readership was more than 4 million. Diabetes Forecast was suddenly competitive with such for-profit competitors as Diabetes Self-Management.

"He really started bringing quality and respectability to association publishing," said Matthew K. Kinsman, managing editor of Folio. "He was very concerned for the audience, not only for association members, but also people who weren't members and could benefit."

According to the ADA, more than 20 million adults and children have various types of diabetes, which develops when the body does not produce sufficient insulin or when certain tissues become insensitive to insulin's effects. Unmanaged, the disease can lead to blindness and amputations.

Banks, 52, who died of colon cancer July 21 at his home in Fairfax City, was a biochemist-turned-science-writer. A Connecticut native, he joined the ADA in 1986 and moved quickly into management. He was publisher from 1999 until he left in 2006 to start his own publishing consulting business.

Banks oversaw the transformation of Diabetes Forecast from a 64-page bimonthly that was equal parts color and black-and-white into a color monthly with more than double the page count.

He introduced original fiction to its Kids' Corner section -- inspirational tales of youngsters with diabetes who, for example, solve a mystery or overcome fear of an insulin shot. The association published many of the stories in a book, "The Dinosaur Tamer and Other Stories for Children With Diabetes" (1995).

Banks added modern recipes tested by a professional food writer. He emphasized the need to picture people on the cover instead of abstract designs. He also helped start a Spanish version of Diabetes Forecast to reach what he considered an underserved population.

He was an early advocate of making the magazine available online to reach his core audiences: those with diabetes and the medical community. He also recognized the fact that the Internet meant readers had more places to get their information, which he said challenged his magazine to become more relevant and enjoyable.


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