Media - Capitol Inquiry in the News

City Talk: The key players of Washington's influential and controversial weeklypaper look back on its legacy - Page 2

Meanwhile, some of the individuals who shaped the paper reflect on what they helped create.

Russ Smith, co-founder (with Alan Hirsch) of Baltimore City Paper in 1977 and Washington City Paper in 1981: When it started, it was called 1981, for no good reason other than novelty. The idea was the paper would change the name each year. Another cool idea, no doubt hatched at some bar, but one that should have been scuttled.

Mark Perry, editor, 1983 to 1985: I was 30 at the time and freelancing for 1981. We were in a tumbledown townhouse on Sixth Street NW, right off Mass. Ave. There was a bar on the corner we'd go to after work. One of the dreams that every young reporter had in college was starting an alternative newspaper. If you were a young writer and you wanted to write, that's where you came. We really gave a damn about it.

Jeff Stein, editor, 1982 to 1983: I didn't know anything about this free circulation stuff; that was a total mystery to me. How do you make money on a free paper? But then I saw how it worked, the logic of it. I thought: Oh, I see. The paper is stacked up in a bar, and people are reading it at the bar, and the owner and managers can see that people are reading it, and they're advertising. We targeted that advertising segment that could not or would not advertise in The Post because it was too expensive. The ad people would slam the phone down, come running down the stairs and yell, "We got an ad from the Hair Cuttery!" It was like, Wow! You hit one out of the park!

Russ Smith: The beauty of a free weekly was that, editorially, it was entirely liberating. Because the paper was loaded with listings and classified and adult ads and comics, which is why 75 percent of people picked it up, as an editor I had the freedom to run whatever stories I wanted, not worrying whether many people would actually read them. In fact, we could have put out a paper with just a logo, and the pickup wouldn't drop much. Writers hated that basic truth, thinking it was their theater review that drew readers, but it was one of the first basic publishing lessons I learned. next >>

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