Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Newspapers need editorial latitude to best serve public


GREAT BARRINGTON >> In the mid-1960S, my good, good friend, Jon Lipsky, came to me and asked if I would like to be the publisher of the Fire Island Sun.

Up to then I had been a head counselor at the Bronx House camps in nearby Copake, N.Y. The Fire Island Sun was the alternative newspaper of Fire Island. We had to start it, find an offset printer (quite new at the time), locate office space and recruit people to write for the paper.

I thought I would be the next Perry White, telling Lois and Clark what to do, but brother, was I ever wrong. It turns out that I ran the business side of the paper.

Among other responsibilities, I had to sell all the ads for the paper and my friend Lipsky had a formula and was sticking to it. Half the paper would be devoted to news, the other half would be advertising.

The problem was that I had never sold anything in my life, let alone advertising. To put it mildly I was in real trouble.

The paper was funded by a group of very well meaning, wonderful Fire Island citizens who hated the existing paper. They got together and each put in a pretty good amount of money. If memory serves, it was about $4,000 each.

These were almost all great people but a few thought that their money entitled them to special treatment and, as I recall, some thought that some of their old enemies would be made to pay for past perceived transgressions.

I remember going to a cocktail party at the home of the editor and from across the room came this lady, well known to all in Fire Island, who gave me hell for not doing justice to the press release she had written about her garden party.

Since I had my hands filled with the business of the paper, I was hurt and furious and no one came forward to defend me. Since it was his mother's house, I certainly wasn't going to throw the appropriate blame, if there was any, on my friend.

It was an extraordinary year. The Fire Island National Seashore was just being passed by Congress and Jon and I traveled to Washington to get the story. The volunteer assistant editor on the paper was one Bonnie Jones, who was attending Skidmore College, and when I was doing my Ph.D. at NYU.

I was dispatched to work with Fred Ohrenstein on his Senate Mental Health Committee so I was in Albany. Bonnie invited me to meet her roommates and there she was, the lovely Roselle, who I promptly fell in love with.

I called Bonnie the next day and Bonnie told me that she had already asked Roselle whether she was interested and was told, "No, he's not my type." When I asked Bonnie who was her type, she answered, "Someone taller." Thankfully, Roselle came around.

Years later, after having established one of the very earliest internship programs in the modern Legislature, I decided to start a newspaper for academic credit. We hired a professional editor and I was the politics instructor and publisher.

That newspaper, the Legislative Gazette, is still around today and when asked how I knew how to do it, I replied that I had once been the publisher of the Fire Island Sun proving once again that what goes around comes around or that there is a guiding hand to all of this.

So I wish good luck to the people who have defied all the odds and put their money where their mouths are. I sure hope that they'll remember, as the board does at WAMC, that there is a professional staff to run The Eagle.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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