I normally don’t answer my cell phone while on vacation. I made an exception during the first week of August 2007.
Sitting at a hotel pool, I was on a weeklong trip with my family to Philadelphia and Hershey, Pa. when I decided to take Adam Stone’s call.
For an hour, Adam enthusiastically regaled me about the idea of starting a weekly community newspaper, perhaps covering Mount Kisco where he lived at the time, because another newspaper, The Patent Trader, had ceased publication. He also mentioned Pleasantville, where his wife had been raised, because the village didn’t have a local paper either.
We had become friendly during our time at the old North County News in Yorktown Heights, where I was still working as assistant editor but planned to leave by the end of that summer to explore other opportunities. For about four years, Adam was one of our reporters, a curious, earnest staff member and a terrific reporter.
I listened patiently to what he had to say before he eventually asked what I thought. Even though I had worked as a reporter or in publishing for most of my years since college, I didn’t have a clue about how to start a newspaper, much less run a business.
Between the two of us, I told him that we each knew plenty of friends and former co-workers that we could call on to report local stories and provide content, but how was he going to attract advertisers, the financial lifeblood of a publication? Where was he going to find people to help sell ads, get a reliable graphic designer to lay out the pages, locate an affordable printer, distribute the paper, and if and when a paper gets printed, to where would it be delivered and by whom?
With the ominous forecasts of the downfall of print media, I was obviously skeptical and had been considering a career change. But I agreed to meet Adam and talk again after I returned home.
When we did, I was astounded. He had sketched out a plan that only he could understand. It made Professor George Lambeau’s problem on his classroom blackboard in “Good Will Hunting” look like third-grade math.
“I started writing down on that yellow legal pad the steps that I thought I needed to take in order to make this happen,” Adam recalled. “I sort of said to myself I don’t know if this is going to be a business success, but I had a confidence if I followed these steps that we would be able to publish a newspaper at least one time.”
When he asked me to be his editor, I posed one straightforward question: What kind of publication did he want his newspaper to be. Adam’s response was that he wanted what would be called The Examiner – a name he chose, according to my recollection, because it sounded like a good newspaper name – to contain well-reported articles on local governments, school districts, students, businesses and residents.
He also wanted the paper to have at least one item of value or interest to anybody who might pick it up. I figured there was still at least one person around that shared my views on what a local newspaper should be and decided to accept his offer.
A month later, on Sept. 11, 2007, that initial modest goal of completing one issue was realized when the first Examiner was published. What’s hard to believe is there has now been an Examiner printed for 523 consecutive Tuesdays.
While others saw a dying industry, Adam saw a void in communities such as Mount Kisco and Pleasantville, and soon after in New Castle, North Castle and throughout Mount Pleasant, where The Examiner would expand during the next year. Despite an increasing trend toward celebrity-focused or eye candy journalism, he believed there was still a market for solid community journalism, and that there were still people who wanted to know what’s going on in their town, village or school district that was of a serious nature.
“I had a strong sense of the right balance of stories, the mix of the light side, the features, hard news, and the importance of stuff like blotters and obits and strong sports (coverage),” Adam said. “That’s what I grew up with.”
He recognized that maybe local businesses would see the value of having a local publication to advertise in.
It was also of paramount importance that Adam was a journalist first and cares deeply about the integrity of the journalism. From the opening week, Adam sought a clear division between the editorial side and the business and advertising end. Regardless of the size of a publication or the communities it covers, there will always be some natural conflict, but it was crucial for him that there be as little influence on one side from the other as possible.
It didn’t take long for other communities to notice The Examiner. As industry trends and technology posed greater threats to many newspapers and the Great Recession chewed up others, The Examiner was approached to start a Putnam County edition in 2009. By the end of 2010, we moved into Yorktown, then the neighboring communities that comprise The Northern Westchester Examiner.
When another publication met its demise, that provided Examiner Media an opening to publish a White Plains Examiner starting in 2011.
Northern Westchester Examiner editor Rick Pezzullo said the real testament is how the Examiner newspapers have become valued in the areas they serve.
“The newspapers in the Examiner Media group are a throwback to when community journalism was at its best,” he said. “Despite advanced technology and social media where news is available anytime and anywhere, there remains a thirst for neighborhood news, and that’s where Examiner newspapers fill a major void.”
Although the print version of Examiner Media remains its bread and butter, there will always be change. The Examiner’s website, www.theexaminernews.com, was largely a skeleton for the first five years, but we have been pushed into using technology more frequently. We also knew that news doesn’t wait to happen one day a week.
That was evident during a two-week span in the fall of 2012, when we provided daily updates of the Douglas Kennedy trial in Mount Kisco. The following week we followed with updates about how our communities were coping in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The opportunity opened up the possibility of providing an e-mail blast each weekday morning and to introduce ourselves to a larger readership.
As The Examiner enters its second decade, there will continue to be change and evolution. But the core tenets of serious local journalism will remain the same.
It’s been a pleasure to have been a part of so many readers’ lives these past 10 years. We pledge to keep striving to do better and keep on learning and listening.
“It’s been a learning experience and it’s been a fun experience and very challenging and I’ve definitely learned a lot,” Adam said. “I think we’ve had more success than what I could have imagined or hoped for at this point looking back. I remember reading how rare it is for (new) businesses to last one year, let alone five years, so to get to 10 years definitely feels like a major accomplishment.”
Martin Wilbur is the editor-in-chief of The Examiner.