Community newspapers in areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy suffered as much as any other business, with their offices flooded, computers ruined, files and mementos lost to the storm.
The Queens Chronicle, located in Rego Park, got off lucky, and was even able to open its doors to two other area papers so they could keep publishing after the storm.
Now one of those papers, The Forum, based in Howard Beach, and another Queens weekly, The Wave, based in Rockaway, are getting new help, in a joint effort of the City University of New York and the New York Press Association. Each is getting five used CUNY computers so they can keep their readers informed and their advertisers in the game, in an effort engineered by NYPA Executive Director Michelle Rea and Garry Pierre-Pierre, executive director of CUNY’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media.
Rea and her husband, Doug, NYPA’s senior vice president of advertising, came to the Queens Chronicle office last Friday to join Chronicle Publisher Mark Weidler in bringing five of the machines to The Wave, and to see the damage to the Rockaway Peninsula firsthand. NYPA, the association of weekly newspapers across New York State, is based in Albany. The computers were delivered by CUNY to the Chronicle office to be given to the two papers. The Forum, published by Pat Adams, has been produced at the Chronicle office since the storm, and will continue to be until its office is repaired.
“When I heard how bad things were for Pat Adams and The Wave, I was looking for computers,” Michelle Rea said. A colleague suggested she write to Bob Isaacson, the director of CUNY TV, asking for help.
“I wrote the letter and the next day CUNY gave me 10 Mac computers,” Rea said.
The NYPA director is also working on getting about 10 more machines and updated software for hard-hit newspapers, by contacting companies directly and through Kevin Slimp, a news technology consultant who is a regular speaker at association events and has extensive contacts in the computer industry.
Rea is also concerned, however, about the financial viability of other newspapers in communities that suffered heavily from Sandy’s rage. Like nearly all papers, they are dependent for revenue on advertisers, many of which have shut down. The ripple effect of those closures could be devastating, as papers have regular expenses to cover, she said.
“This is the time of year newspapers wait for all year long,” Rea said. “The Christmas season carries the newspaper business through the spring. If the storm had hit in any other quarter, it would have had much less impact.”
But, she reported, the NYPA board said it is open to providing financial aid too: “We exist for the sustainability of newspapers. If we’re not there for them when a natural disaster strikes — that’s what we’re here for.”