Longtime Albany Community Newspaper Relaunches
A once-thriving community newspaper in Albany is launching a mixed media revival.
Print newspapers focused on local communities in the Albany area thrived from the 1960s through the 80s. Times were changing nationally as the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, locally as a huge chunk of Albany met the wrecking ball. People wanted to connect. Readers eagerly awaited each new issue of the Washington Park Spirit, Metroland and the South End Scene.
Leonard Perlmutter was the Spirit's editor. "The Washington Park Spirit was an alternative bi-weekly newspaper, published from 1971 to 1975. It was established to help develop and motivate a sense of community. It was a time in the history of Albany where there was both destruction and creativity. The Inner City that was known for decades, was no more. A lot of the housing stock was demolished to make way for the Empire State Plaza. I think that it's probably just a natural process in the phenomenon that creativity comes from destruction and that they sort of, they go hand in hand."
The Spirit's "spirit" went on to influence other papers like Metroland, which enjoyed a longer run, from 1978 to 2016.
Both papers were preceded by The Albany Liberator, published by The Brothers, a local civil rights group active during the mid-60's.
And preceding them all, The Scene. In 1964, Albany Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green founded what would become one of Albany's longest-running independent black newspapers.
"We started with a mimeographed newsletter called 'The Voice of The South End.' They were distributed to people in housing projects and pretty much throughout the South End. And people would start reading and talking about issues that were presented. It was also a way of informing people about programs at Trinity Institution and other places in the South End. Then, we decided that we wanted to be a little bit more investigative and make something much more attractive. So we got this idea of creating a regular-looking newspaper, and we were able to do that and I think it started, like in 1977, and it really caught on."
Green says the paper's popularity quickly spread to Arbor Hill and West Hill. By the early 1980s Albany area radio personality Art Mitchell was running The Scene, which continued printing until 1991. Eventually the rise of the internet and social media turned the newspaper business on its head. Today, Green believes the time is right to re-introduce The Scene, both in print and online. "You know people sort of wanna maintain, build and maintain this sense of community, which I think is nice, because a lot of people unfortunately have the stereotype of the South End, Arbor Hill, being dangerous communities. Which is not true. Things happen, but things happen in other places too. But I think there are people who love the South End, they love Arbor Hill, and they still want communication the way that they did back when."
The re-launch of The Scene came with help from the NAACP and the Albany Public Library. "They wanted to do something with young people and so everybody was talking about 'The Scene,' and then the idea sort of grew that we would start 'The Scene' but it would be a different kind of publication. It would include young people."
Mia Nilo is the Executive Administrator at the Center for Law and Justice and one of the managing editors of The New Scene. She says just about everyone has a smartphone. Free internet at public library branches and neighborhood wifi via Albany FreeNet which have spawned hundreds of local websites, blogs and social media accounts. In other words, the kids are connected. "They grew up almost entirely encapsulated within the internet generation and their lives being almost interconnected with the internet and apps and phones and tablets an all of that. They actually have their own digital projects going on, so often all we have to do is give them an audience, like 'why don't you connect to other people who would not otherwise connect to your stuff through a community newspaper, so those older folks who really want the physical paper, like they get connected to these younger kids with their projects."
Developing and motivating that sense of community takes on new importance in the digital age. Nilo says The Scene has been reaching out to local organizations and area schools to boost connectivity.
On the print side, Volume 1 Issue 1 has been distributed citywide to libraries and other establishments. The headline article tackles alternatives to Youth Incarceration.
An op-ed piece appearing in the online edition entitled "Pinkster: The Festival That Won't Be Celebrated" decried a local attempt at revival of the old Dutch holiday, citing the dark racist undertones it conveyed, demonstrating the power of social media.
Nilo says the all-volunteer staff has Issue 2 just about ready to hit the press, with distribution throughout August. "If you are interested at all or you know a young person who's interested in joining a community newspaper, amateur writers, amateur photographers who've always had a love of it but haven't gotten out there yet with their very first article or their very first photo series, every week on Wednesday from 3:30 to 5:30 you can come on in during our editorial meeting and be able to workshop your ideas, so you'll get that first idea off the ground, get engaged with a newspaper, come on in 3:30 to 5:30, Wednesdays."
That's at the Howe Branch Library, 105 Schuyler St, Albany, NY 12202.