Towns have no business in the newspaper trade


Greg Bean

So, East Brunswick has gone into the newspaper business — without asking a single taxpayer whether that’s a business they want to be in.

Generally, I’ve been a supporter of Mayor William Neary and his administration. They’ve done a lot of good work in my home community and there’s a lot to be proud of. This newspaper decision, however, is wrong-headed on so many levels it would take about three of these columns to cover them all.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll hit only the high points:

• Admittedly, I have a vested interest in this, but I do find it disquieting that a governmental entity we journalists are ethically obligated to cover as objectively as possible is now a direct marketplace competitor. It’s a competitor of every other print outlet that covers the township as well. That’s just weird.

• While Neary maintains that the East Brunswick Quarterly will not be political in nature — taxpayers wouldn’t stand for that — you can’t help noticing that in the first issue, the lone Republican on the council, Christi Calvano, was not given a voice on the council page. Nor, apparently, are there any plans to give her one. How can a publication be considered nonpolitical when a Democratic voice is on the council page, and not a Republican one? If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck …

• Neary says that because of the benign nature of the newspaper, he perceives no need for libel insurance, and that issue will be left up to the publisher, Quarterly Publications LLC. Obviously, Neary needs to brush up on the law. Under New Jersey statute, the publisher of a newspaper is responsible for every word in the publication, including the advertising. And if someone takes umbrage to something printed in the publication and files suit, he or she can not only go after the direct assets of the publishers, but the personal assets of anyone who had anything to do with the offending material. People filing suit generally go after the people with the deepest pockets, and in this case that would clearly be East Brunswick. Did anyone ask taxpayers if we wanted that responsibility? No. The decision to take part in this venture was not made by the council, it was made by the administration, so there was no discussion.

• It’s a fact of the newspaper business that there is a line between advertising and editorial. Still, that doesn’t stop advertisers from occasionally demanding special treatment, and threatening to pull advertising if they don’t get it. Keeping everyone happy is like walking a tightrope for a newspaper publisher, and it takes a great deal of diplomacy to keep from falling off. Will any of the advertisers in the East Brunswick Quarterly — say an advertiser who also does business with the township in a development project — demand to be shown in a positive light in one of the stories? It’s likely that will eventually happen. What will the township do? I don’t know, but I’ll bet nobody in the administration has spent 10 seconds thinking about it.

• My first boss told me there’s no better way for someone with no experience to turn a large fortune into a small fortune than starting a newspaper. Almost to prove that axiom (even though Neary said the publication would be self-supporting) they managed to lose between $8,000 and $10,000 on the first issue. Based on 30 years’ experience, I think it will be a long time before the Quarterly is in the black. If ever. Do East Brunswick taxpayers really want to support a newspaper that doesn’t pay for itself? I don’t know, because no one ever asked.

• Although I have a high personal regard for William Neary, I’ve noticed in the last year or so that — like many long-time mayors — he’s become increasingly thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. Most recently, he bridled over coverage of the high-paying job he got at Keep Middlesex Moving because of his political connections. He didn’t think that job should have been a newspaper story, and he was upset it became one. Would the story, or further developments, be covered in the East Brunswick Quarterly? Not on your life. For that, you’ll have to keep reading the competition.


I haven’t written about this for four years, because there was a part of me that was afraid speaking about it would mean bad luck. Another part of me held off simply because I know my middle son well enough to know he’d probably be embarrassed by the attention. Now, however, I think the time has come.

Today, as I write this column, is my son’s last day in the United States Army.

He joined the military right out of high school and his first day of service was Sept. 5, 2001, six days before Sept. 11.

A member of the 173rd Airborne, he trained as a paratrooper and was among the first soldiers who jumped into Iraq at the start of the war. A squad automatic weapon gunner, he spent a large portion of his year in country training Iraqi police forces and then served out the rest of his hitch in Vicenza, Italy, and Fort Polk, La.

Obviously, his mother and I are not the only family members in this country who worried about their loved ones in the military, and our experience was no different, and often not as heart-wrenching, as thousands upon thousands of other families in similar circumstances.

But, just for posterity, I’d like to take this opportunity to let my boy know how proud his mother and I are of him, and how much we’ve learned from his calm dedication to duty and country, his personal bravery in the face of very difficult circumstances these last years.

I’d like him to know that not only are we proud of him, we’re proud of every man and woman who has served their country during this difficult and bloody time. And I think that sentiment is shared by every patriotic American today, no matter what our political beliefs concerning the war in Iraq.

I don’t know if it’s the Army that has made my child into the competent young man he has become since the day he enlisted, but it’s a fine young man he’s turned into.

Welcome home, Coleman.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers.