Tuesday Night at the News Review
The Greenbelt News Review is a community weekly newspaper and one of seven cooperatives active in Greenbelt today. It published its first issue (then called the Cooperator) on November 24, 1937, only a few weeks after the first residents moved into the brand new town and has not missed an issue since. The paper is run by a group of volunteers, and every Tuesday night, the editor and staff meet at the paper’s office in the Community Center to put together this week’s paper, which will be published on Thursday.
Shortly after the paper started, the government, which owned and ran the town, gave it free office space in the town center (later named Roosevelt Center). In the 1990s, after Center School left the Community Center, the News Review moved its office there. Now Room 100 is the home of the paper.
It is 8:45 pm, still early as far as Tuesday night is concerned at the News Review. (Many volunteers routinely work past midnight.) Here Susan Harris (right), a new GHI resident who is interested in writing for the paper, talks with the editor Mary Lou Williamson (center) and reporter Marat Moore. Harris comes from Takoma Park and wrote for the Takoma Park Silver Spring Voice. She also has her own blog, and she is interested in writing about gardening, music, and dance for the News Review.
Marie Wong greets visitors at her desk. She has volunteered at the paper for about ten years and works on advertisements. She says that advertisers usually call or email, but some also walk in during office hours on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and Tuesday night. The deadline each week is 10 pm on Tuesday. Many ads, such as theater schedules and church announcements, are regulars, and when something new comes up, Ann-Marie Saucier, the paper’s graphic artist, designs it. The paper normally does not procure ads but during the holiday season, they sometimes solicit from businesses in Roosevelt Center or Greenway Center for example.
Joanne Tucker has worked at the paper for forty years. She has been on the Board of Directors, written play reviews, but now works mostly on advertising. She types up classified ads, faxes them to the layout person, Lynn Eppard, and communicates with her on where to pick up ads which have run before and whether there are changes to them. She works on Tuesday nights till normally 11:30 pm or 12 am. At the end of the night, they add up the inches for this week’s ads, and that total determines the size of the paper. I ask her about ad revenue, and she says that it is not as good as before the downturn. It is also seasonal, she tells me. Now it is a slow time, with no elections or yard sales for example. “Election time is boom time for us.”
Joanne Tucker checks through a pile of ads and classifieds.
Marie Wong (left), Joanne Tucker (center), and Jessi Britton work as a team at the business desk. I ask Ms. Tucker whether she finds the work fun. She answers affirmatively, “it’s nice to catch up with what’s going on and see friends.”
Reporter Mary Clarke (right) shares a laugh with Marat Moore who is on the production staff. Clarke has come to the office to talk to the editors about a piece she has written on the January 23 City Council meeting. Two City Council members were competing to represent Greenbelt on the Metropolitan Council of Governments’s Transportation Planning Board, and many residents voiced their opinions at the meeting. This will be a long article in this week’s News Review.
Helen (Nell) Sydavar is the paper’s photo editor and has worked here since 2002-3. She looks through photos that have been submitted and determines which ones can be used in this week’s paper. She then converts these photos into black-and-white, 300-dpi (dots per inch) tiff files in Photoshop. She also lightens each photo because she says the printed pictures usually come out darker than what she sees on her computer screen. Sydavar then checks with the editor Mary Lou Williamson and ftps the files to Lynn Eppard for layout. The articles and ads are put in first, and the photos and their sizes are determined after that. Here she is working on a photo she took of a cluster of snowdrops already blooming in January (this has been an usually warm winter).
From left to right, editor Mary Lou Williamson, assistant editor Barbara Likowski, James Giese and Bernina McGee Giese edit articles at the editor’s desk.
Barbara Likowski has worked at the News Review for more than forty years and is now the assistant editor, helping the editor with various tasks. She covered meetings at the beginning but now mostly edits articles. The copy editors check for grammar and style; the News Review does have a style manual (no serial commas for example). Likowski comes to the office on Monday to get the stories ready; Tuesday night is the big editing night; on Wednesday afternoon she also comes in in case something important arrives and needs to be put in this week’s paper; and on Wednesday night a few of them come back again to proofread the finished paper. The paper is then sent to the print shop by internet and the print copies are delivered here at the office about noon on Thursday. When I ask whether she likes working at the paper, “I love it,” she says. “We are really like a family here.”
Likowski also writes obituaries for the paper. She checks old phone books for facts and calls people to confirm details. Here she is showing me the article she is editing, “Future Plans for Vacated School Property Engages City Council,” by James Giese. It is about the future of the soon-to-be vacated Greenbelt Middle School.
James Giese (left) and his wife Bernina McGee Giese work at the editor’s desk. James Giese was Greenbelt’s city manager from 1962 to 1991. After he retired he has volunteered for the News Review, serving as a reporter and copy editor. Bernina Giese has also worked at the paper for many years. Beside editing she also arranges articles for the editor, for example, letters to the editors on page 2, city events on page 3, church announcements and obituaries on page 4, etc.
Nell Sydavar shows editor Mary Lou Williamson (right) some of this week’s photos, which she has converted into black-and-white and printed.
Mary Lou Williamson has worked at the paper for fifty years. She recalls her neighbor Virginia Beauchamp knocking on her door in 1962, Greenbelt’s 25th-anniversary year, asking her to join the News Review. She worked on three 25th-anniversary editions of the paper that year which were combined to create a 25th-anniversary brochure, and in 1987 when the city was celebrating its 50th anniversary Williamson was the general editor of a pictorial history book, “Greenbelt, History of a New Town, 1937-1987,” which is still the authoritative history of the city. She researched on historical photos of Greenbelt in the Library of Congress.
For the past forty years, Williamson has been the editor at the News Review. She tells me that after Al Skolnik, the paper’s founder and then president, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1977, she also worked as a reporter for ten years and put in something like eighty hours a week at the paper. Now what she does is mostly “resolving problems and making decisions.” When I ask her for an example, she tells of a medical group wanting to advertise a study in the paper and insisting on paying a lower rate than the paper had set. She had to turn them down. Before she leaves tonight she will set up the front page of the paper and decide which story goes to which section. She will also give Lynn Eppard, the paper’s layout person, a list of major stories in the order of priority, and Eppard will work on the layout on Wednesday morning. Later on Wednesday Williamson will receive the finished design and decide whether there need to be changes. The paper’s pdf file is published on its website on Thursday morning, and hard copies will arrive at the office at noon on Thursday. They are delivered to residents on Friday or Saturday.
I ask whether the paper has enough people or money. “We never have enough people, and we are not making enough money last year and this year.” Williamson says that it is probably because of the downturn in the economy. The paper relies entirely on advertisement income, mostly from real estate; however, many of the real estate advertisers have not been in the paper for several months. She says that about ten years ago the paper was not doing well financially and she had to ask people to send in volunteer subscriptions of thirty-five dollars. “A lot of people did, and some people send in more than that.” Then the situation got better and subscription was discontinued. She does not know what will happen if the lack of advertising continues.
I have more questions but there is a call from Lynn Eppard and Williamson has to decide whether to publish this week’s paper in 12 or 16 pages. I will save my questions for another time.
The February 2, 2012 issue of the Greenbelt News Review, which the staff members are shown working on in these photos, is now available as a pdf file here.