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New Times founder Ken Simon looks
back on what he was thinking in 1969
s part of our 40th anniversary cel- doing. I helped to invent the concept of the
ebration, the Syracuse New Times alternative newspaper, me and the people who
invited its creator, Ken Simon, to worked with me. The Syracuse New Times is
visit and talk about why he did what he did. the third-oldest alternative weekly, and that’s
He spent a few hours at 1415 W. Genesee something, especially when you consider
St. on March 19, explaining the karma that this is Syracuse; it isn’t San Francisco or
that resulted in the third-oldest alternative Boston or Chicago or New York City, a big-
newspaper in the country. It isn’t a reach to ger or you’d think more alternative-leaning
boast that he helped invent the alternative metropolitan area.”
press. When he started the paper as a brash It’s interesting that Simon, now 61, did
21-year-old senior at Syracuse University, so well with print because he majored in
it wasn’t because similar tabloids were broadcast journalism in Syracuse University.
fledgling in Greenwich Village and San “That’s what I do now,” he said, “television
Francisco. It was because he could. and radio, documentaries, PBS shows. I’ve
“I don’t know what led me to do it,” he
done three pledge concerts on PBS, with Car-
admitted about turning his Orange Pennysaver
ole King, the Eagles and Harry Chapin.”
into something more than a vehicle for adver-
Come September, he will begin a teaching
tising. “I guess the urge to communicate did,
job near Hartford, Conn., in a video produc-
but it was crazy because I had no money. I
tion facility he helped design.
knew there was a void on campus for a news-
Four decades later, The New Times is PHO
paper that had advertising. The Daily Orange
ingrained in the Syracuse landscape; many VIS
had gotten so strident and radical and there was
locals couldn’t imagine it not being around to
no advertising. So I looked at it and thought,
inform, agitate and question. What follows is
‘Maybe there’s a market for advertising.
a transcript of Simon’s recollections about the
Maybe I could start something.’ And so I did. I
paper and the Salt City, and where he thinks
will be folks that are involved with alternative percent increase in newsprint just at the time
borrowed $50 and I printed up business cards,
the print media industry is going in the early
newspapers who can figure out the transition when I needed three times as much of it. And
letterhead and invoices and thought, ‘That’s it:
part of the 21st century.
to digital. Economic diminishment and layoffs the prime interest rate had gone to almost 21
I’m in business.’ I didn’t have any plan; I just
lead people who really are passionate about percent {during the Carter administration,
sort of did it. I don’t know what I was thinking.
In the Beginning journalism or community or arts or culture 1976-1980}. And our advertisers were having
“The first place I went to for advertising
to another outlet, because downturns don’t trouble paying their bills. This is the first time
support was Liquor Square, and he said, ‘I’ll
“I just visited the hallowed New Times
stop that passion from happening. That’s why we needed money. Now I look back on it and
take a double-truck’ {two-page center spread}
Park {located at Comstock and Euclid
you’re getting a lot of these local there’s something to be said for a fist in the
and I said, ‘For how long? For a year?’ And
avenues}. It is just great to be here. I haven’t
‘newspaper’ sites. stomach. I shut down Buffalo, gave the Ithaca
he said sure. That was the key moment right
been here for at least 15 years; I was here for
there, so then I went to Discount Records and
the 25th anniversary. Riding through the city
“We still need to know what’s going on, paper to Jim Bilinski {still the Ithaca Times’
sold them an ad.”
unlocks a lot of memory and sensory things.
and so this is an ugly transitional period and publisher}, and concentrated on Syracuse.
The next 11 years of being part of the van-
I’ve been able to keep up with it {The New
I think The New Times and papers like it that “This was the first time that I was scram-
guard proceeded nearly as smoothly, although
Times}. For the years that I’ve been gone,
are well run and well managed are going to bling around to find local partners that could
they were anything but dull. “The 11 years
it’s almost like a child writing to me every
survive big time with this because the playing put money into it. I had to separate the busi-
that I ran The New Times were incredible,”
week. The city is great. This was a tough city
field has been leveled.” ness from the editorial. We were at the White
Simon said. “We were a lot less established
to start an alternative newspaper in many
Memorial Building {East Washington and
then. We were young and wild and inventing
ways and for those reasons, The New Times is
The First Downturn
South Salina streets}. I didn’t tell the staff that
it as we went along. It was crazy times, 1969
even more important to the city, to give it an
I had no money, that I couldn’t meet payroll.
“We had been going great guns, started
to 1980, very rich and profoundly important
alternative voice, a place for civic discourse,
So that became my job, to scramble around
a paper in Ithaca in 1972, started a paper in
times to our country. We were all in our 20s
and that is at risk these days as newspapers
to meet payroll, and part of that was finding
Buffalo. Unfortunately, these were in the days
and 30s; Walt {Shepperd, former senior edi-
implode all over the place.
some partners real quick. I decided I had to
when we didn’t have computers to keep track
tor} was in his 50s.” {Simon grinned from ear
“It’s unbelievable that stupid management
shut down. We were four or five days away
of our expenditures; everything was on these
to ear when he made that last statement.}
decisions and corporate ownership and inabil-
from the deadline for that maybe last issue. It
ledger sheets. All of a sudden it seemed we
“We were people who love journalism and
ity to foresee the Internet and take advantage
was the middle of winter and we lost heat. As
were producing three papers on this antiquat-
who love newspapering, although maybe not
of the new digital platforms led to a situation
if things weren’t bad enough already, right?
ed equipment. In a good week we produced
these days when you look at what’s going on
where, hit with some economic disasters plus
“Then I asked Tom Peyer if he would cre-
120 pages among the three. And we had three
in our industry. I’ve always thought that the
the change in digital landscape, is just sound-
ate a cartoon for our last issue. It was four
sales staffs, so I had weekly meetings in three
dream is you go out and you work your butt
ing the death knell for daily newspapers. Who
panels featuring the publisher of The Herald
different cities. We grew so rapidly, and what
off at a daily newspaper, and then you retire,
knows what’s going to happen.
Journal at the time, and he’s looking at a copy
happened was we were losing money but I
you buy a little weekly, you retire to that. I
“The business model will eventually catch
of The New Times that says “New Times out
didn’t know that.
was lucky enough to do that ass-backward.
up, no doubt about it because people crave the
of business,” and the publisher looks up from
“When I figured it out, where before I had
It was the greatest 11 years that I’ve spent in
kinds of things that newspapers can do and
his desk and says, “You mean we won’t have
never had an increase in my printing bill, the
many ways, lucky to do the things that I love
that alternative newspapers can do in a big
The New Times to kick us around anymore?”
price of newsprint shot way up. We had a 30
way. Among the survivors of this implosion
“The day before payroll I got the green
4 July 29 - Aug. 5, 2009 Syracuse New Times
news & oPinion Feature arts & entertainment eVents cLassiFieD
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