I’ve had my share of tough assignments over the past two decades in journalism, but this one is by far the hardest: my goodbye letter.
At the beginning of June, I gave my notice at the Press, and this is my last week. I know, I know, what am I thinking? Well let me explain.
In 2000, I had an idea while I was driving west on the Northern State. I think it was around exit 36. I was listening to WLIR, and I was caught up in one of my usual entrepreneurial fits. I had, prior to this, along with my work in journalism, started and operated several successful businesses, all originating from similar fits. So I knew I was on to something.
The idea: Why not contact The Morey Organization, which owned WLIR and the music venue The Vanderbilt, and see if they have any interest in starting an alternative weekly newspaper? A trifecta of sorts. Makes sense, right?
I did have some experience in the field. I was one of the original editors at the Long Island Voice, the Village Voice’s suburban edition, and I had worked for several dailies including Newsday and The New York Times. I knew The Morey Organization was up to the chore. They were also equally entrepreneurial, and I believed a print outlet was the obvious next step for them.
I first met with then-TMO General Manager John Caracciolo (who had, months prior, threatened my life, but that’s a whole ’nother story). He was thrilled by the idea, and after showing me where my office would be—an equipment closet adjacent to the spacious office of WLIR’s program director—he was prepared to go to print two days later.
“That’s not the way it works,” I explained.
I then met with his partner, Jed Morey, who had me sit in a barber chair during our initial meetings. To make a long story short, Jed took the next 18 months to immerse himself in learning everything he could about the world of publishing. It was my first insight into just how smart and curious this guy is. I would eventually meet with him in his office in the bowels of the Vanderbilt, along with Beverly Fortune, who was his then-assistant, but whom I soon came to discover was actually his right hand. Enthusiastic and creative, she quickly became the backbone of the company and is now COO of Morey Publishing.
Jed and I mulled over this project for a year and a half. And finally in January 2002, I sat in my new office, one that was much more suitable for an editor-in-chief than an equipment closet (which became the domain of then-Managing Editor Bill Jensen).
Jensen was one of the first two on board. He was a clever young chap who was a hungry reporter at the Voice with me. We had remained in touch since the LI Voice closed in January, 2000, and I kept assuring him, “Trust me, something’s in the works.” Jed and I had sworn each other to secrecy. Jensen remained at some upstate toy magazine for a bit longer than he hoped, as Jed studied and studied and studied. Simultaneously, I knew I had to bring Michael P. Nelson aboard. I have known the brilliant Nelson ever since a friend, former Island Ear publisher Arie Nadboy, asked if I could help him out for two months while he was without an editor-in-chief. Nelson was the managing editor there at the time, and not only did I recognize his genius the minute I read his first sentence, I just liked him. He’s an odd duck—very antisocial (love that), very NYC slackery-hip (love that), biting humor (love that), has the coolest girlfriend in the world (love that) and is an inspirational writer and editor. I knew I needed him to be our then-music editor. And I knew I wanted him to write a column, about his odd-duck personal life and skewed perspective of the world. Although morphed now into “Sonic Boom,” that award-winning column, “The Nelson Ravings,” is to this day one of my favorite features in the paper. Mike and I have shared a lot over the years; we have been confidantes, colleagues and, as much as one can be with Mike, friends?
And now I had to hire the rest of the staff.
Ron Beigel, my longtime BFF, had come on board as our food critic. I knew him back in the old days when I owned a music venue in NYC. His hobby was food, so I brought him into the LI Voice as a food critic (and pop culture writer), and he rocketed from there to editor at Zagat. So, of course, I brought him to the Press, and, of course, he was obligated to take me and my wife and out to restaurants he was reviewing. When he stopped taking us out to eat, his job became imperiled, but Jed likes him, so he stayed.
Tanya Indiana, a fantastic writer and remarkable character whom I knew from the Voice, told me about a neighbor she had (there was a wild group of slovenly young men who shared the other half of her house, which soon became simply known as the notorious “Merrick House”). “He might need some tender loving care, and a job,” she said. She also claimed he was the sweetest, nicest kid she knew. A few days later, a baby-faced factory worker, Christopher Twarowski, came in for his interview. In his hand he had a crumpled up Xerox copy of a record review he wrote for his college paper. It wasn’t bad, from what I recall. But more than that there was just something about him. So he was our first outside hire.
In case you haven’t followed the paper for the past eight years, Chris has since gone on to be a nationally respected investigative journalist, the holder of two advanced journalism degrees from Columbia, and a multi-award-winning writer. And I will now go on record to say the only reason his groundbreaking Newsday circulation scandal series didn’t win the Pulitzer that year was because of internal politics. But that series is sure important enough that it changed an entire industry and is being discussed in journalism school. I love Chris, and not seeing his Cheshire cat grin, or being a part of his constant “search for the truth,” is one of the most painful parts for me in leaving.
We had an amazing editorial team: Lauren Hill, Paul Perillie, Brendan Manley, Kenny Herzog, April Jimenez, Tom Durante, and Michele Pepe. They’ve come and gone, but each has helped grow our publication and award collection. And, for the most part, we are still friends. Kenny, in fact, will be a part of my new venture.
Tim Bolger, who joined us in early 2003, was one of those interns who would never go away. You know the type? And if he had, the Press would have suffered. We very quickly learned that he was more than just a kid biding his time here. This was a real-live shoe-leather reporter. Watching Tim grow into a surly contrarian has been a delight. He’s never happy with anything, sees conspiracies everywhere, and is a real old-school news junkie. Tim, who won the PCLI Cub Reporter of the Year award in 2004, soon moved up the ranks at the Press. He is now the news editor, and on the FBI’s “To Watch” list. No, really.
Best Tim story: One day he texted his colleague April Jimenez about me, in which he referred to me as “Psycho McBossy.” Unfortunately, he accidentally sent the text to me and not April.
The fact that he is still at the Press is a testament to his great skills, and my ability to continually embarrass him over this incident.
Edith Updike helped oversee some of my favorite times at the paper, first as news editor, then as managing editor, after Jensen moved on to the Boston Phoenix. Edith is sharp, witty and smart. And tough. She moved on to spend more time with her family, and teach part-time at Columbia J-school.
During Edith’s era we enjoyed the stellar work of Lauren Wolfe, Elizabeth Cady Brown, Dave Gil De Rubio and a 10-foot-tall amazing intern we called Napoleon Dynamite.
Then there’s Annie Blachley. We needed a copy editor and fact checker. We never expected the likes of Annie. We hit the jackpot with her and she quickly moved up the editorial ladder. Not only was she the absolute best at her job and made sure our paper was perfect, she was so damn interesting.
Interesting? Let’s talk Josh Stewart. This Southern boy came in as our sports editor (from Soap Opera Digest of all places) and, day by day, there was some new facet of him to be learned. So good at all he did, he became our de facto managing editor, and constant source of entertainment. Raconteur indeed. His annual Stew-B-Q’s are legendary. I’ve never attended one.
Well, here comes another intern: We really liked young Brad Pareso when he interned with us while he was attending Penn State. But since his graduation, he returned to intern again, endeared himself to us, and was then hired. And then it all turned ugly. Despite the fact that he writes an amazingly funny and informative column, “Nothing But Net,” and that he picks up lunch for us every day, he has grown into a petulant punk, and I can’t wait to part ways with him. JK, Brad.
Finally after years of us not utilizing her talents to the fullest, we have brought on Jaclyn Gallucci full time. Damn! If she were here from the start, we wouldn’t have needed all those people I have already mentioned.
Jon Sasala, our art director, has been with the Press from Day One. This guy has been the heart of the paper. He is sensitive, funny as hell, hip as they come, and truly gifted. I can’t imagine saying goodbye to this great partner of mine over the years. And his team is quite a testament to him. The amazing Sandy O’Donnell, the lovely and talented Ryan Muth, my man Mike Conforti who just created, after eight years, the Press’ first really great website, and Greg Hararalaalaaalam, who I am often afraid of.
Tom Butcher, whose name might not be familiar to you, is omnipresent at the Press, running more aspects of our operation than we even knew existed. He’s been a part of the paper from the start . And that’s the thing about this place, unlike other papers I’ve worked at: here there are no divisions between departments. For example, super-hardworking Jamie, from financial, and his growing collection of bizarre tics and medical disorders, is as beloved in editorial as our own. From newbies Pilar and Christine in sales to Chris and Harlan in events, we all care about each other.
Ever since I dropped Beigel as my BFF when he stopped taking me out to dinner, I needed a new one. And who joined us just in time? Michael M. Martino. If you know him—and who doesn’t?—you know why I love him. His incredibly profound case of ADD enables him to do the work of 3,000; so, professionally he has been essential to my good fortune at the paper. But it’s more than that: it’s also his whining, his complaints, his hypochondria (although that lower chest thing doesn’t sound very good), his jokes, his IMs, his family, his clumsiness, his past, his quick wit, his musicianship, his incredibly vast knowledge, his Julia, his friendship, that I will miss. Our talks about his daughter Julia and my daughter Emma have been as important to me as him writing an amazing cover story in 15 minutes.
And that’s the point. The family here. I’ve watched Julia grow up. I’ve watched Jed become a father. Twice. Bev, Sandy and Annie’s kids got married. We’ve also attended too many wakes and funerals together. Mike Castonguay, Chris Bright and Felice Cantatore added to their families. As did Conforti, but that’s a story for another time. Phyllis’ daughter entered high school. Lee got his first bachelor pad. Eric’s band recorded a CD. Nick was a waiter who impressed Jed during a meal, and now he’s one of our star account executives. Chef Palmer spoiled us with mad-crazy good food. Harlan gave us idea after idea after idea. Kaitlyn, who started as an intern, now runs the joint. There’s about to be a marriage, and there were a couple of divorces. I’ve witnessed April’s niece and Chris T’s dad defeat the odds. Karen’s son, who has autism, sat to eat dinner with his sister recently. So you see we’ve had breakthroughs aplenty. This is what I’ll miss most.
I thank Jed for this gift—the Long Island Press, and for these people who have enriched my world over all of these years.
The paper is now poised for some really positive and exciting new things, because Jed, who has been an inspiration to me over the years, has had his own entrepreneurial fits. It’s time to move on while the paper is strong.
So just as I came to Jed all those years ago with this idea, I now have a few others that I must pursue, the way I pursued the Press.
I will never find a more fun, dysfunctional, meaningful family as I have at TMO (and I haven’t even gone into the Bev stories!). There probably isn’t a week that has gone by since 2001 when I haven’t come to Jed at least once, and said, “I love this place.” (Granted, it was mostly because someone was incredibly weird.)
One favor I have of you. Stick with this pugnacious little publication. It needs your support. Be inspired, angered, entertained and informed by its stories. Support its advertisers. Keep this talented group employed, and our advertisers in business. Long Island needs this independent voice.
I love this place.