The first issues of The Brooklyn Paper, back in 1978,
were nothing like today’s.
I was looking for an opening in Brooklyn’s newspaper market and found
one Downtown, where no weekly publication served the area’s tens
of thousands of office workers (daytimers, we called them, most living
in various Brooklyn neighborhoods). We figured we’d leave residents
of the ’hoods nearest Downtown to the existing publications.
Our product was “soft,” featurey but not fluffy. Even so we
ran into some trouble right away. Our first edition featured a roundup
of lunch spots — since our readers left the area at 5 o’clock,
lunch was the big deal. In an otherwise complimentary review of Capulet’s
on Montague Street, our critic mentioned that the wait for service at
lunchtime was a long one. The proprietor was displeased.
Fortunately, others were happier. A Montague Street retailer knew exactly
which day The Paper came out — around noon, office workers would
beginning showing up with his ad in hand.
Our preview issue’s cover pictured a secretary about to pour a pot
of coffee over her boss’ head. We were big on office worker features,
which in those days meant women. When “9 to 5” came out —
the movie in which Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton play a trio
of office workers who wreak revenge on their (male) boss — Features
Editor Laurie Brockway took some secretaries to the movie and chatted
over coffee afterward. We’d hand flowers to arriving office workers
on National Secretaries Day in April and we sponsored a Best Secretary
Contest, which generated a tremendous response.
Giving out free flowers was great in cementing our good relations with
Downtown’s gatekeepers, but it compounded a challenge particular
to that period.
Two things coincided with The Paper’s launch.
First, within a few weeks, the city’s daily newspapers were closed
by a lengthy strike, and some people assumed we were a temporary “strike”
paper. (In those days, New Yorkers we so desperate to read a newspaper
every day that when the dailies would be struck shut, which happened with
some frequency, entrepreneurs would start “strike” papers, employing
some of the strikers and giving readers their daily fix. One publisher,
an old acquaintance operating on the tightest of budgets, borrowed time
on our typesetting equipment; when the Pope died on deadline, their cover
featured a picture of the pontiff and this headline — “Pope
dies, details tomorrow.”)
The second thing involved the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed Korean
messiah, right-wing political aspirant and cult-leader whose legions were
dispatched throughout the city distributing Moon’s literature —
We were the first major “free” newspaper in Brooklyn, and many
people didn’t understand the concept — how could we make money,
giving it away? In our first weeks, as we offered Papers to passersby,
more than a handful wouldn’t stop, thinking us “Moonies.”
The free concept, however, was destined for widespread acceptance, and
it now dominates the weekly newspaper business — there are even several
free dailies, though not in New York. Acceptance did not come overnight;
getting there required creativity and determination. Stubbornness, really.
Meanwhile, our featurey and Downtown-centric approach lasted about two
months. More on that in a future column.