Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Capital New York writes of The Wave, onrockaway.com and the Rockaway Times
Media reporter Nicole Levy posted an online story today on Capital New York that details the new media war in Rockaway, with one new online paper and one new print paper have started up to challenge the 120-year-old Wave.
Here is what Levy had to say.
At the far end of New York City, Rockaway is an isolated community with big-city problems and, in some ways, the perfect incubator for a local news outlet.
But the Queens neighborhood's 120-year newspaper The Rockaway Wave hasn’t had much competition covering the peninsula, until now. Two former Wave managing editors have decided to start their own publications.
Surprisingly, it’s the younger of the two launching a print newspaper. Rockaway will become a two-newspaper town when the first issue of Kevin Boyle’s The Rockaway Times comes out on Thursday, defying the convential wisdom of a digital-first era.
At 74, 19 years older than Boyle, Howard Schwach is betting on onrockway.com, an online newspaper that went live May 25.
“The more voices the better,” said Robert Hardt, NY1’s political director and a Rockaway resident since 1997. “It can only make things better for the peninsula, and I think there’s definitely room for more than The Wave."
Boyle and Schwach’s paths, now parallel, crossed shortly after Hurricane Sandy ravaged their seaside community in 2012, when Boyle—who had served once before as The Wave's managing editor—expressed an interest in buying into ownership of the paper and replaced Schwach at its editorial helm.
Boyle welcomes the competition, he said in an email: “As far as outlets covering Rockaway: the more the merrier.” A lifelong entrepreneur who has had, at various times, a Domino’s franchise and a bar to his name, Boyle said he chose print as his medium because he believes it will be profitable. His free weekly paper has two staffers selling advertising and is co-owned by Patricia Adams, publisher of two community newspapers in Queens under The Forum Newsgroup.
Although the Rockaway market lost a number of potential local advertisers after Sandy pummeled their businesses, it appealed to Adams because, Boyle said, “Rockaway is up and coming. It’s hip…It’s a place that needs more than a 120-year-old newspaper.”
The Rockaway Times will complement a print circulation of 10,000 copies with a website and a podcast series recorded in its offices, a short bike ride away from Boyle’s home. The commute was a factor in planning his most recent career move, Boyle told Capital inside the former taxi stand on Beach Channel Drive he has been renovating into a workspace. Ideally, he’d prefer to work out of his own home.
Schwach, meanwhile, is doing just that. His headquarters are the second bedroom in his house in Belle Harbor.
The longtime newspaperman is investing all his energy and money into a low-tech site with the layout of a broadsheet and a salesman pricing ads at one-third the cost of The Wave’s.
He reported that onrockaway.com has so far had 5,000 hits, an unreliable measurement of website traffic. Hyperlocal sites aren’t always a successful business model, Schwach acknowledged, but he believes his familiarity with Rockaway and its people give him an advantage. He was born in the neighborhood in 1939, worked at The Wave for 24 years, and taught at public schools on the peninsula.
“I used to say print newspapers will never die, and I don’t like this online stuff, but now I’ve become an advocate,” said Schwach, who intends his coverage of Rockaway to align with that of The Wave's during his tenure there.
As for where faction lines among Rockaway readers might fall in the future, it seems that business models are less a factor than the principles Boyle, Schwach and The Wave embody for their supporters.
Boyle, who left The Wave after tiring of negotiations to buy a stake in the paper, is widely praised for his editorials on the impact of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, a law passed in July 2012 that permitted FEMA to increase flood insurance premiums by as much as $30,000 in the Rockaways.
“He's kind of an old-school journalist-slash-activist, which you don’t really see in this day in journalism, someone who has an ax to grind for the right reasons,” said NY1 political director Hardt. Boyle also has a distinct sense of humor he will take from The Wave to The Rockaway Times in the form of a column called “Boyleing Points.”
Schwach has his own partisans, including Rockaway activist and former Queens Tribune editor Vincent Castellano. “I thought Howie Schwach was more of a newspaper guy, and Howie was more in tune with the community,” Castellano said of Schwach's time at the paper.
In 2009, New York magazine included The Wave among its annual reasons to love New York, and noted Schwach's stories on the booming population of registered sex offenders living in Rockaway and the financial controversy surrouding Democratic district leader Geraldine Chapey, among others.
Meanwhile, The Wave remains confident in its prospects as the community's symbol of its resilience in hard times. (It is among the publications Mayor Bill de Blasio subscribes to.) “We’ve been around since 1893, we’ve weathered competition before, and competition is healthy,” said publisher Susan Locke, who saw the paper’s first-floor offices wrecked by Sandy. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Locke said.
The paper, which costs 50 cents, currently has a circulation between 9,000 and 10,000, and a new managing editor with a background in sports and community reporting, Mark Healey. “Community news here is very important,” she added, “and people here really rely on their local newspaper because they don’t get that information any place else.”