“Tell me something about Elvis.”
That’s how my housemate Jared answered a phone call one afternoon in early 2002. I didn’t know it at the time, but the fate of my entire journalistic career hung in the balance.
On the other end was Robbie Woliver, who with Publisher Jed Morey, was about to start a new publication, the New Island Ear, which in 2003, would re-launch as the Long Island Press. Robbie had been given my phone number from my neighbor, Tanya Indiana, with whom he had worked at the Long Island Voice. He was calling to set up an interview for an entry-level spot.
“Elvis is dead,” Robbie replied.
Pleased, Jared took down his contact information and passed it along to me, thus leading to my eventual hiring. (I’ll save the details of my “interview” for later.)
There were just five of us back then in editorial: Robbie, the editor in chief; Bill Jensen, managing editor; Arts & Listings Editor Michael Patrick Nelson; Staff Writer Lauren E. Hill; and me, the editorial assistant. Jon Sasala was our art director.
Although I had written and edited at my college newspaper, I had primarily covered arts and entertainment, mostly music. That quickly changed. Don’t get me wrong, I took full advantage of meeting and interviewing all my favorite bands and requesting any album or book I ever wanted—Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick come to mind—but from the first issue, I began interviewing ordinary people.
People you’d never hear about. People who, unless you were friends or family, would never, ever know. People who had their own unique stories to share—some beautiful, some absolutely heart-wrenchingly tragic. All simply amazing. All extraordinary.
Robbie and Jensen let me write a few columns and taught me way too many things to list here. Source cultivation, character development and “stepping away from the story” were but a precious few.
More people were brought aboard: Edith Updike, as news editor; Paul Perillie, as senior news writer; Staff Writer Kenny Herzog; Lifestyle Associate Editor Brendan Manley; Listings Editor Dave Gil de Rubio; Food Editor Ron Beigel; Annie Blachley, our copy editor; along with too many other writers and contributors to name. Michael Conforti, David Patrick, Sandy O’Donnell, Michael Cali and Keith Hopkin rounded out the production department. I eventually became an associate editor, overseeing several other columnists, but continued to take on any assignment I could and continued writing as much as I possibly could. (I eventually wrote for every single section of the New Island Ear and the Press. I also formed a vicious coffee addiction, which persists, in full furor, today.)
When we officially launched as the Long Island Press in 2003, we took the Island by storm. Us against the world was the vibe. By this time, Timothy Bolger had also joined the ranks (Jaclyn Gallucci came on as an intern in 2006, around the same time Michael M. Martino came aboard), and he and I learned hard news reporting from Updike.
Follow up every lead. Talk to as many people as possible. Tell both sides. Never give up. Take no prisoners.
Smitten with the written and oral word from as early as I can remember, I became drawn to the longer-form stories, the ones that required research and revisiting sources, the ones where you had to dig. I developed an unnatural obsession with documents. Updike started calling me “Scoop.” (I’m sure she called me some other names when stories ran over word count or were held up by some minute detail; thankfully she didn’t voice those.) She became my partner in crime and opened my eyes to investigative journalism, being the voice of the voiceless, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, shining a light on all the dark places, exposing the truth.
Political malfeasance, corruption, sketchy business dealings, environmental crimes—it didn’t matter who or what. We went after everything. Exposing the truth was our only objective, besides, in the process, telling a truly, truly great story.
Throughout the past decade, we’ve told a lot. And although their impact isn’t always quantifiable unless someone personally shares the effect they’ve had, some, to a degree, are. Among them: our role in helping expose the Newsday circulation scandal, perhaps the largest case of circulation fraud in publishing history; raising awareness about LI’s heroin epidemic; helping shut down and clean up covert Nassau County-run solid waste sites on a public beach and in its largest park; acting as a force for change within Nassau’s disastrous sewer system; giving hope to families suffering various health crises; shining a light on shady dealings within the Nassau County Police Department.
And many more to come.
I left the Press in 2006 for three years to study under many other great journalists and editors at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and then the amazing writers and editors at The Washington Post. Those seminal experiences may find their way into a future letter from this editor.
For now, I just wanted to share this little bit of personal history with you as the beginning of a dialogue I’d like to maintain. We are here to inform you. We are here to tell your stories. We are here to expose the truth and shine a light. We are here to serve as a check on power. We are here to make this Island, and world, really, a better place.
All the aforementioned people (and many more) have helped mold me and my craft and I humbly bring the knowledge, tools and values they instilled—which I continue to learn—along with a piece of them, with me to this position.
Spencer Rumsey, Rashed Mian, Lindsay Christ and Licia Avelar round out our current edit lineup, Sal Calvi and Scott Kearney round out production. There’s no better team in journalism, and through our new sister publication Milieu, guided by Publisher Beverly Fortune, we hope to positively affect even more Long Islanders.
In an industry that is undergoing an unprecedented upheaval, the Press remains, in my opinion, the absolute best vehicle for the truth on Long Island, and it will continue to remain so as long as I have anything to do about it.