Community Newspaper Eviscerated
By Arthur Schwartz
For all the intrusion of the internet into how we get our news, and the availability of 24 hour per day updates, community newspapers retain a special importance. Local residents rely on community newspapers to get current information of local stories—whether it be the fight over a park, plans to create a new school, challenges created by overdevelopment
The Villager, a weekly newspaper, was founded in 1933 by Walter and Isabel Bryan. Along with the Village Voice, which was founded in the early 1960s, and focused somewhat more on more global issues, The Villager became a key source of news about Village politics, personalities, and the rich culture of Greenwich Village. In 1992 it was bought by Tom and Elizabeth Butson, who maintained The Villager’s focus, and who linked it to a Soho-Tribeca paper which they renamed the Downtown Express. In 1999 The Villager was purchased by John Sutter, who kept on a 30 something reporter named Lincoln Anderson, and anointed Lincoln Editor.
When Sutter bought the paper, it had a paid circulation of 25,000, and the Express distributed 50,000 copies per issue. In 2001, 2004 and 2005, The Villager won the Stuart Dorman Award, honoring New York State’s best weekly newspaper, in the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. The Villager has also been called better than the New York Times by New York magazine. In 2005, in its “123 Reasons Why We Love New York Right Now,” New York dubbed the New York Times Reason #51, “because our hometown paper is still the greatest in the world,” the magazine said…before adding, #52, on the facing page: “…next to The Villager.”
Sutter expanded the paper’s reach, opening new papers in Chelsea (Chelsea Now) and the East Village Express (now called Manhattan Express), both of which were distributed for free. But Sutter gave up the paper about 8 years ago, and sold it to the Community News Group, owned by Jennifer Goodstein, which owned other papers in Brooklyn and Queens under the name Community News Group, and the Villager became mostly an online newspaper. It still had tens of thousands of views per week, and the free papers had healthy readerships. And Lincoln Anderson remained the face of The Villager.
In 2018 all of the Community News Group was sold to Schneps Community Newsgroup. This group has numerous publications in Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Westchester and Long Island. Things began to change. Lincoln was told that he had to become the editor of not just The Villager, but also of the other three lower Manhattan papers. Staff was cut. Management started insisting on more generic city-wide material.
But as the Village and Chelsea communities engaged in the 14th Street fight with the DOT, Lincoln became invaluable. The Villager and Chelsea Now sided with the community in its editorial pages, and Lincoln wrote almost daily updates on developments. On September 26, after 22 years with The Villager, Josh Schneps, who is about to buy AM-New York (a citywide paper) told Lincoln that he was fired.
Lincoln Anderson represented what was best about community newspapers. He knew everyone. He stayed in touch with all sorts of folks in the community that The Villager serves. He was ahead of local stories, he brought local figures to life, and he made sure that local culture still took center stage.
Lincoln isn’t looking to return to a paper that the Schneps folks will turn into one more generic “community” publication. A true voice of our community, and of Chelsea, the East Village, Soho and Tribeca will bite the dust. Lincoln is a talented writer and will return somewhere. And WestView will have an even more important role to play in our community.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village, and has been since 1995.