I respectfully submit the letter below for your “Correspondence, Commentary, and Corrections” section.
In “Do We Really Need Newspapers?” from the February 2018 issue of WestView News, George Capsis deplores how “people are simply not looking at a newspaper any longer, and certainly not a community paper.” According to Mr. Capsis, the iPhone and “the explosion of real news, fake news, and sheer nonsense” are to blame. The implied consequence is that community-based publications like WestView will not be able to survive – unless “you [the reader]…let us know you want it.”
If he sincerely wants his paper to attract a wider audience, Mr. Capsis would do well to consider how WestView might better address the diverse interests and needs of its community.
I am 35 years old and have lived in the West Village for several years. I love the neighborhood and am grateful to have a community paper, but even as a casual reader, I can identify at least a couple of reasons for WestView’s limited appeal.
The first reason is content. Month after month, WestView focuses on the same handful of topics over and over again: access to healthcare for seniors, rising rents, overdevelopment or unwanted development, and the closing of St. Veronica’s Church. These are important issues, but they are not the only issues that all West Village residents care about.
WestView’s tone can be as much a turn-off as its content. Highly subjective, broadly outraged, frequently combative, baldly one-sided, and nostalgic for a West Village that no longer exists, WestView too frequently reads like a draft of one man’s anti-establishment rant.
Consider, for example, “God at the Drafting Board,” the top-line story in the February issue, an editorial (not a newspaper article by any standard of objective journalism) describing Mr. Capsis’ idea for senior-friendly housing. Half of the piece is given over to an email exchange between Mr. Capsis and a PR representative for Trader Joe’s, whose professional response to a rumor about a new store location is the pretext for Mr. Capsis taking Trader Joe’s to task for not having a plan to partner with a developer to finance and build senior housing.
I do not mean to be unduly critical. WestView is to be commended for its commitment to the West Village and for championing worthy causes, and it is certainly Mr. Capsis’ prerogative to sponsor a forum to air his own values, grievances, and ideas. But if Mr. Capsis is truly interested in publishing a community newspaper that has broad appeal, WestView would have to become something more than a platform for one person’s point of view.
In WestView’s 15 years, we have received very few letters, either positive or negative, about the paper so this letter from 35-year-old Greg Hamm is indeed an exception.
It is hard to read negative criticism. Your instinct is to deprecate the author and defend yourself but Mr. Hamm is a good writer and thoughtfully tempers his negative thoughts. He lets me have it nevertheless.
I started to write a response but then I thought that Andreea should just send Mr. Hamm’s letter to our contributors for their reactions. She has selected excerpts from several responses (which follow) so now it is up to you, our readers, to see if you agree with Mr. Hamm and/or our contributors.
Oh, and after thinking about it for a few days, I decided that I have no intention of changing the paper.
The following excerpts have been edited by WestView News:
“I don’t think WestView is a platform for one person’s point of view. It has many issues and many points of view, which is why it is popular. I do think the front page should be newsy, and although the senior shared housing piece was interesting, it was an open musing by George about something which will never happen. I think opinion pieces by George have a place, but there should be a column, perhaps on page 3, called ‘George’s View.’”
—Arthur Z. Schwartz
“I agree that WestView is largely George’s voice, which is his prerogative as Publisher. I would ask Mr. Hamm to do three things: (1) Respond to George’s specific proposals, (2) Show us any articles which did address the ‘interests and needs of its community,’ and (3) Consider writing for us.”
“Mr. Hamm should note that WestView actually covers a broad range of topics. Hasn’t he noticed that? He should also realize that a really conservative tone will not be presented and that fact will probably turn off some readers.
What subjects would Mr. Hamm like to see covered that are now missing from the paper, and that would be relevant to a general reader or to a Village resident?”
“I do agree with a few of Mr. Hamm’s points. We need to diversify our articles, which will diversify our audience. Reading the same articles over and over doesn’t always add pressure to the issues. Sometimes, it just bores people.
I do not agree that the tone is not journalistic. I enjoy it as a West Village artist-based activist type of paper.”
“Over the years, I have heard complaints from readers about topics that WestView covers to the point where it’s too much. However, there are those readers who are equally obsessed with topics, such as the closing of St. Vincent’s, and it’s important to keep people up to date on such issues as they come up.”
“Reading Mr. Hamm’s letter, my first reaction was to wish for more specific suggestions, rather than ‘better address the diverse interests and needs of its community.’
WestView really does provide variety and diversity to readers—Not only a diversity of topics, but a variety of opinions and outlooks. Despite the fact that the paper focuses on the same handful of topics over and over again: ‘access to healthcarefor seniors, rising rents, overdevelopment or unwanted development, and the closing of St. Veronica’s Church,’ many more topics of interest are also offered. What comes to mind right off is the ‘In & Out’ column, the ‘Events’ pages, the delightful bird-watching articles, science pieces, travel articles, and the generally neutral coverage of new developments in the ‘Stroll’ series.
As long as I’ve known George, he has gone above and beyond to seek out diverse opinions and contributors. The diversity that exists in every issue is a testament to his desire to be inclusive. Could it be improved? Of course; we are not resting on our laurels.”
—Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
“WestView is a local paper and its topics are extremely relevant to its audience, especially in a time when a general malaise exists in our society, and people are feeling more and more alienated. In short, WestView’s most important asset is that it has heart.”
“WestView sometimes does read a little bit like ‘a paper for the elderly’ and certain topics appear in almost every issue (e.g. health care, hospitals, new developments, St. Veronica’s, etc.). I think it’s very important to keep fighting for certain things such as St. Veronica’s but smaller, lighter articles spice up the paper and give it a ‘younger vibe.’ Why not do a portrait on a younger resident? There are so many great 20- and 30-somethings out there.”