Lauren R. Stevens: Advocate origin story
The recent refocusing of The Advocate on Williamstown sent me rummaging through memories of before and after May 28, 1981, when the first issue of The (then) Williamstown Advocate appeared. "Those were the days, my friend/ We thought they’d never end Š"
Someone asked how a newspaper could survive in a town without supermarket or auto dealer? A Williams College economist asked if I were committed to starting the paper. It was clear that if I hadn’t been he would have passed on a number of good reasons for not doing so. On the other hand, I was heartened by how easy it was to find investors for the idea that Williamstown needed its own newspaper.
I read highly optimistic books about starting a weekly rag. One from Harvard, Mass., suggested all you had to do was open an office and ready-made advertisements would fly in. Instead, K.C. Allen dropped by to let me know I really would need a production crew and she could do the job. Furthermore, as it turned out, her brother, David Fowle, later the manager of Wild Oats Food Cooperative, could not only run the machinery but fix it.
Type setting was a separate operation in those days. At first we took copy to McClelland Press. Then Nancy Lamb (The Queen) and I drove to Quebec in her pickup truck, because the Westmont Examiner was selling its Compugraphic. One frigid day, when the machine that developed the Compugraphic copy failed, Nancy drove her pickup to borrow one from her family, while I stood in the back to keep it from sliding. When we arrived at our Spring Street office, I was barely able to make it up the stairs in time to hug a radiator before I passed out.
The production department pasted copy, photos and advertisements, most of which it turned out they had to make up, on flats, which we took to The Transcript to print. A conflict of interest? Typically the printer bides his time. Management is always going to pay staff first; until the back printing bill becomes so large the printer takes over the paper.
That didn’t happen then, although now the same company owns Advocate, Transcript and The Eagle.
That people were willing to sell advertising on commission amazed me.
The best of them, like Judy Bousquet, looked as though they might be customers of their clients.
Eager, young, writers were willing to report the news. Ours were sassy enough, like Sandi Clark and Denise Morrissey, to keep the editor/publisher on his toes. We were also gifted that experienced writers, like Ralph Renzi, Bob Bell and Fred Stocking, graced our pages.
Hap Milne and his dog, Fred, delivered the papers, and sure enough Fred soon came to write a down-to-earth, brief, column about the people they met along the way.
After such goofs as misspelling "fluoride" in a headline and omitting the "l’’ in "public," Alan Green at first complained, then copy-edited as a volunteer and finally as staff. Knowledgeable on virtually every topic, he also served as our music critic and resident conservative.
Running a business overwhelmed my original idea, that a weekly would be an great opportunity to write. Fortunately Pam Art took over until, Advocate-experienced, she headed to Storey Communications, which she now leads. Everyone involved in The Advocate’s opening days moved on to bigger things. Then Bill and Betsy Densmore brought bigger things to The Advocate, which became a newsweekly for the region.
At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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