Hey. Good to see you. It’s been awhile.
Since March 2014, in fact. You remember it, maybe. Malaysian Airlines 370 gone missing. Russia annexing Crimea. North Korea with the missiles already. Lady Gaga in concert, belting “Swine” from atop a roasting pig.
And the last print issue of the Long Island Press – the last one before this one, let’s call it. Local-born “Saturday Night Live” alum Jim Breuer on the cover, drinking coffee with our reporter in Chester, N.J. Inside, there was an update on Oheka’s Gary Melius, shot but surviving, and a few pages back the horoscope predicted “demonstrations of love and affection during your Uranus transit.”
That was not the original Press, of course, once Long Island’s most popular daily, the crown jewel of the Newhouse newspaper chain and a beloved first job for everyone from celebrity detective Bo Dietl to Vito Turso, now the No. 2 guy at NYC’s Department of Sanitation.
Future governor Mario Cuomo was a prominent Press devotee and TV news personality Geraldo Rivera, who delivered the paper as a 12-year-old Babylon resident, credits one of the paper’s carrier contests with opening up the wide, wide world he would later cover.
“Aside from the fact that it taught me business, costs and profits, the thing that I really loved was you got tickets to Yankee Stadium and the Steeplechase at Coney Island,” Rivera said. “So the Long Island Press really was an eye-opening experience for me. It’s still a big part of my nostalgic recollections of life on Long Island.”
Though a Queens publication by birth – it dates back to the 1800s – the Press followed the post-World War II building boom into Nassau and Suffolk counties and by the late 1960s had a commanding circulation of 450,000.
“The Sunday paper was so thick I had to reload my bike four times to deliver my route,” remembers John Culbertson, a Press carrier in the 1960s and now president of tech firm IPLAN Access.
But the picture had changed dramatically by the 1970s. Newsday had emerged as the Island’s leading daily, in both readership and advertising space. The Press management was battling its unions over pay and benefits, and the unions weren’t budging. The 1973 recession shut down many local businesses and forced others to cut back on their ad buys.
The Press lost money for three years running before Newhouse decided to pull the plug. By then, circulation was down to less than 250,000 copies. Press’ editor David Starr delivered the story to the newsroom at 5 a.m. on March 25, 1977. “Today’s issue is the last,” the headline read.
“Our costs have inexorably risen while our revenue has inexorably shrunk,” the accompanying story said. The layoffs totaled 600. The Press building, a giant brick shrine to newspapering built on 168th Street in the 1930s, remained idle until it was torn down in 2005 to make room for a Home Depot.
Act II. The Press was reborn in 2003 by Jed Morey, whose father owned the legendary alternative rock station WLIR. The initial idea was to create a music-focused paper to complement the station and its varied events. Newhouse had so thoroughly abandoned its former Long Island jewel that the name was available, trademark-free.
“My original plan was for a glossy local magazine with quippy editorials and celebrity profiles,” Jed said. “In other words, exactly what the Island didn’t need. Instead we formulated a plan to launch a Long Island-centric alt-weekly that would inform and entertain readers without alienating them. An-alt weekly with suburban sensibilities, if you will.”
Jed’s dad sold WLIR a year later, but the new Press charged forward without it, mixing entertainment with investigative reporting and political coverage and generally calling out anyone who would mess with anything Long Island. The staff was a quirky but talented bunch, mostly former Long Island Voice writers, led by the creatively restless Robbie Woliver.
While the awards stacked up, the checks didn’t, and the weekly Press was finally forced into monthly frequency in 2013, like its predecessor, hammered beyond recovery by a recession. That final print issue with Breuer on the cover was distributed a short 14 months later.
The Press has soldiered on, quite nicely thank you, as an online-only publication, serving up a few million page views per year. Still no stacks of checks, though.
Which brings us to the issue you’re holding. Josh and Vicki Schneps, owners of 20 or so papers in the NYC boroughs, acquired the Press in April and almost immediately set about bringing it back to print. The plan: a monthly trends and lifestyle publication fronted by some of the nowhere-else journalism that has won the Press so many awards over the years. They hired me to help.
There. You’re pretty much up to date.
A favor, though. We have more ideas than pages at this point, and building the new Press, perfecting its voice and content, will take time. We’re thrilled to have longtime staffer Tim Bolger as editor, plus a talented group of contributors, old and new, in our return to print.
And you, of course. Great to have you along for the ride. Should be fun. Tell me how we’re doing any time at [email protected]