Last year, as we approached our 25th anniversary, the
first question was, when do we celebrate?
While it seemed prudent to wait for the date to arrive, we opted instead
for a 25th anniversary year — we’d mark the entire year leading
up to our big day, then continue celebrating during the year that followed
— call it a two-year year. (Besides, if making it through 25 years
is such a big deal, wouldn’t celebrating a 26th year be even better?)
There aren’t many players around from 25 years ago, but there are
a few, and I hope they can make our party. The Brooklyn Paper didn’t
just happen after all — well, maybe it did — but lots of people
had a hand in it.
• • •
When I was 13 years old, I spent a couple of months selling Brooklyn Eagle
subscriptions door to door, telling people that Brooklyn just had to have
its own voice, that we were stepchildren in Manhattan’s media. I
was an early recruit for a would-be army of Eagle carrier boys; we built
our own routes and were set to roll at sunrise on Monday, June 24, 1963.
But the Eagle never came that day — it had folded yet again, just
nine months after its final incarnation. And I had to live with the reason
for its demise — the Eagle’s mailers, effectively supplanted
by us carriers, had gone on strike.
Did I help kill the Eagle? If so, please tell me that after 25 years of
publishing The Brooklyn Paper, I am finally redeemed.
• • •
If you want to know about our early business model, I’ll tell you
this: we didn’t use any focus groups. I had a pretty clear idea what
I wanted to do, the energy of a 27-year-old, and an insane confidence
that it would work. Others shared my dream, and many more seemed to appreciate
what we were trying to do; some were less pleased, but that’s a story
for another day.
Before the beginning, there was our paper’s name, or lack of one.
We’d sit in the back of Minsky’s on Remsen Street in Brooklyn
Heights (it later became JB Callahan’s, for years a favorite haunt)
talking newspaper philosophy. And names. We determined not to call our
baby an Eagle, even assuming that name was free and clear, which it might
not have been at the time.
(A couple of years earlier, I had written to Robert W. Farrell, telling
him that, while other 13 year olds had comic book heroes, movie stars
or world leaders to look up to, he was my childhood hero. Farrell was
the man whose stubborn determination had already revived the Eagle twice
— as a short-lived Sunday paper in 1960, and then as a daily in 1962-63.
After he got my letter, we met for coffee at Zum Zums in 44 Court St.,
Downtown; within days, he had printed a “dummy” of a new Eagle
and rented a second-floor office just up the street from Minsky’s,
where he hung an impressive Brooklyn Eagle sign. It didn’t work out
for a number of reasons, including the claim of a Court Street lawyer
that he owned the Eagle name.)
But as I said, we were not interested in the Eagle name, which represented
Brooklyn’s mythic past; our paper would be the future. And there
was no shortage of possible titles (come on, Brooklyn Sun — BS —
what’s wrong with that?).
When someone said, The Brooklyn Paper, the discussion ended. We were in
The Paper had to be staffed, a format designed, a distribution system
invented and, somewhere, there’d come the money. Certainly, advertisers
would love us and support us real quick, wouldn’t they? It was not
going to be easy, we all knew that for a fact. But it would work. Wouldn’t
it? To be continued