Saturday, February 21, 2009

Editor starts a new paper: Parry Teasdale sees a need for a weekly to replace The Independent

BY Chris Churchill
Teasdale edited The Independent, right up until the faltering Journal Register Co. last week closed the well-regarded newspaper serving Columbia County and southern Rensselaer County.

But even as Teasdale prepared that paper's final issue, he was considering ways to keep the news flowing. And this week, he launched The Columbia Paper.

For now, the product can be found only at a work-in-progress Web site, But Teasdale is lining up investors and advertisers, and preparing to start a bona fide ink-on-newsprint publication.

Wait. He wants to start a newspaper?

In this economy?

When advertising revenues are plummeting and even the big metropolitan dailies are cutting back?

Yes, he really does.

"I think advertisers need an inexpensive way to reach into homes and connect with eyeballs," said Teasdale, who for now is producing the content for his paper on a refurbished Dell computer in his Chatham home.

Others agree that a new weekly can survive in Columbia County. In fact, there was considerable surprise that Journal Register, which also owns The Record in Troy and The Saratogian in Saratoga Springs, decided to close The Independent.

To many outside eyes, the paper looked healthy -- and profitable.

Journal Register has also closed or sold publications in Connecticut and its home state of Pennsylvania. This week, the debt-ridden company closed seven papers in Dutchess County and one in Putnam County.

"I don't think any of those papers closed because the community couldn't support a newspaper," said Michelle Rea, executive director of the New York Press Association, a trade group for weeklies.

Rea said it's quite rare for a weekly or community newspaper to close. In fact, there are more weekly papers today in New York than there were two years ago.

Such papers are often deeply linked to their hometowns -- as became evident when The Independent closed. The move saddened people like Colonie resident Tom Nardacci, a 34-year-old who grew up reading the paper and continued to check it online when he moved from its distribution area.

"Community-based newspapers also do so much more beyond reporting the news," he said. "They help to create an identity for smaller communities."

Teasdale said response to the shuttering of The Independent is an inspiration that has energized him for his new endeavor. He has learned, over the last week, just how much people appreciated his old employer.

"That kind of response is so rewarding," the editor-turned-publisher said. "People have just been so great."

Teasdale, who turns 61 today, said he's not naive. He's run businesses before, and worked for many years in the newspaper business.

So he's not ready to promise that The Columbia Paper will succeed. And while he'd like to hire his old staff at The Independent and pay them to work on The Columbia Paper, for now he can't do so.

"People don't realize how expensive it is to produce and distribute real news," he said.

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