When I was preparing to move to New York, more recently than I care to admit, I combed the internet for big-name news outlets where I might be able to intern. I was 22, with no connections in the city beyond some friends of friends, and no credentials beyond a few articles for the student paper at the University of New Orleans, and for New Orleans publications no one outside of that city ever heard of.
In the course of my research, I learned two things: one, it is very difficult to get anyone to give you the time of day when cold-calling New York media outlets with such a resume; and two, most of those that do take interns adhere to summer schedules and can have application deadlines a half year out — too late for my last semester, which I was spending as an exchange student in the exotic land of Flushing, Queens.
But on arrival, bouncing between couches and traipsing across the city in search of work and a place to stay, I realized that New York’s neighborhoods are served by an array of community newspapers with no comparable peers in any of the cities where I had lived. Of those, one stuck out for its irreverent, idiosyncratic voice: The Brooklyn Paper. Another feature that distinguished it from other publications was that when you looked to find the number for the editor on the website, it was right there.
My conversation with then-editor Gersh Kuntzman was brief, but I remember being struck by his enthusiasm for making the internship work. He instantly enrolled in the project of trying to identify where it would make sense for me to live, and which office in the paper’s Community News Group chain I’d be able to commute to.
“Where are you going to stay? We’ve got to figure that out first,” he said.
I ended up subletting in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and opted to take an internship at another company in Queens, where the office was less of a detour on top of a daunting hour-each-way commute. That turned out to be a mistake, but in the years that followed I worked a public relations job and settled into the role of Brooklyn Paper reader. Gersh’s sex obsession, his enthusiasm for video, and his insistence on inserting himself into the story — all three of which combined climactically in the infamous real estate porn video that almost got him fired — gave the armchair psychologist in me plenty to mull over. But battles over bike lanes, geese, and big developments also came to life in the pages of the paper, and schooled me about the forces at work in the borough where I was trying to make it.
The paper was funny. It was bizarre. And beneath the gags and first-person pieces, it was a serious, community-oriented journalism outfit covering the transformation of Brooklyn with a focus unmatched in the city’s shrinking metro press corps. It said more about what was happening on the block level in its neighborhoods than you could ever hope to find in one of the city’s dailies, with more resources and dedication to shoe-leather reporting than the neighborhood blogs it coexisted with.
Years passed, in which the paper was bought and sold, Gersh left and onetime Williamsburg reporter Ben Muessig returned to take over day-to-day editing duties, and a War on Brunch was fought and lost. I won’t bore you with the play-by-play, but when Ben left in the late spring of 2013, editor-in-chief Vince DiMiceli took a chance on me and brought me on as deputy editor. I didn’t see it coming, and it was a realization of a dream I hadn’t dared to have.
In the two years since, I have had the pleasure of working long hours with a dedicated team of staffers, characters in their own rights, to assemble the product that I admired for so long. Together, we have rushed headlong into the days’ events, piecing together the circumstances of fires as we pored over property records and campaign finance forms, trying to make sense of calamity and bring the machinations of power from the shadows into the light. We documented the painful, for-profit dismantling of Long Island College Hospital. We were the only local news outlet to push back when the Police Department cut off the media’s access to the precinct crime blotters. And we had our own fun, proposing the replacement of the Nets’ mascot with a curmudgeonly pigeon named Crummy, and when the pitch was met with silence from Nets management, handing our basketball column space over to the fictional bird.
I’m writing all of this sappy stuff, of course, because I am leaving the paper, and itemizing what makes the newsroom a thrilling place to be has me missing it already. The accomplishments of the team I’m leaving behind are too plentiful and varied to itemize in this space, but I’ll just say that the camaraderie, intensity, and wit here are things I’ll carry with me.
And not that I’m an expert on the business, but I assure you that whenever I get a cold call from a young, aspiring reporter, I intend to pick up.