The Long Island Press: A 10 Year Retrospective

Long Island Press Ten Year Retrospective
Long Island Press Ten Year Retrospective

Bill Jensen - Long Island Press 10 year retrospective

Every story needs an ending.

When we started the Long Island Press, we wanted to create a Long Island paper WE would want to read. For myself, I didn’t want to read about who won the hockey game, but rather who won the fights that took place during the hockey game. I didn’t want to read about traffic, but rather the best-hidden shortcuts to take on Long Island’s roads. And I didn’t want to read about crimes, but rather unsolved crimes, the ones where the guy got away, and the families searched for answers.

But you know the thing about writing about unsolved crimes? No matter how competent of a storyteller you are, your stories never have an ending. And when dealing with murders, you cannot meet with your two main characters. For the protagonist you have memories of family members. You have old photographs and funny stories. You have the last things they said to their loved ones before they were gone. Details of where they were going; what they were wearing. The antagonist? The antagonist is a phantom.

So you work. You chase. You dig. And you tell the best story in your power for two reasons. 1. It’s a story you yourself would want to read. 2. There’s an off-chance the crime can be solved through your work.

That is how I found myself walking through the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant, knocking on doors, asking anyone if they remembered a murder that happened a year before—the only other murder in New York City on 9/11/2001. I was looking for the final chapter of the story of Polish immigrant Henryk Siwiak, the 46-year-old father of two who had gotten lost heading to his first night of work cleaning grocery stores, and was shot dead on Decatur Street on the worst day in the history of the city.

Siwiak’s story still has no ending.

Neither does the story of Long Islander Brian Booth, who was killed in an East Village apartment on Christmas Eve 10 years ago.

Or the bombing of LaGuardia Airport in 1975, which killed 11 people and wounded 75.

There was one Long Island Press investigation that broke the mold. In 2003, we launched “Long Island’s Lost Girls” series, we told the stories of three Long Island women, from three different decades, who had all left Long Island and then disappeared.

In the first of those stories, “Broken Rainbow,” I spoke to the man who many believe had a hand in killing Huntington native Nancy Santomero and friend Vicki Durian in the mountains of West Virginia in 1980.

The middle story, that of Jennifer Wilmer, the Baldwin flower child who went missing in Northern California in 1993, is still looking for its last chapter.

In the final story of the series, we investigated the murder of Sag Harbor flight attendant Lynn Henneman, killed on a layover in Idaho. Finally, we received the ending all these stories deserve—as her killer was caught during the Press’ investigation.

We wrote more than 100 tales, large and small, of unsolved crimes in the first two years of the Press. I left Long Island eight years ago, but I still speak with some of the victims’ families, trying to give them advice on how to get their loved one’s stories back into the news. We want to read the endings to all of these stories.

There was one big reason I was able to begin them in the first place.

The Morey Organization invested in a newspaper in 2002. When the economy was still reeling from 9/11, Jed Morey took a chance on what many called a dying media form for one reason—he knew Long Island needed it.

Like a behemoth who had ruled the Island with little competition for so long, Newsday was a bloated beast. It saw the launch of the Long Island Press not as a threat, nor as a nuisance. Hell, I venture they didn’t even think about it at all.

Then we forced them to think about it.

We ventured into their backyard with a shovel over our shoulder and a pen in our hand, and methodically uncovered a circulation scandal that would change how every newspaper in the country did business.

In just its second year, this little newspaper delivered a severe body blow to a paper that I grew up with, that I had written for, that I loved—but was lying to the people of Long Island.

Having a team of a dozen people take down an army of a thousand was a story with an ending to be proud of. But the thing I am most proud of is that the Long Island Press has endured. That it is being helmed by the kid who took Newsday down, and that it is still locally owned and investing in the important stories the community needs to know.

I want to read the endings to all of the stories I started back in the beginning.

But I hope to never read the ending to the story of the Long Island Press.