The Hudson Valley is a wonderful place for those who work with words, and has been for a while. Our largest regional publication, Hudson Valley Magazine, got started in 1972; the Ulster Publishing group of small-town weeklies got started around the same time. And in the past quarter century or so, nimble new pubs have continued to emerge and thrive.
According to C. James Dowden, executive director of the City and Regional Magazine Association, only magazines that partake of an independent circulation audit “matter”—in our area, only Hudson Valley Magazine makes that cut. But the demographics he cites as capable of supporting those larger-scale endeavors do hold true here: a concentration of affluent and educated consumers.
“What makes these businesses run is the quality of the readership; advertising is valued accordingly,” says Dowden. “And the way to prove that value is with an independent audit.”
In Dowden’s world this may be so. But within the Hudson Valley/Catskills micro-economy, much results from common sense, creativity, and collaboration. It’s the kind of area where youngsters Jason Stern and Amara Projansky could start organizing and printing a little cultural ‘zine they called Chronogram and, not quite twenty-five years later, be guiding a group of four publications with a combined distribution of 140,000 copies as part of a full-service custom media agency (Luminary Media).
“Chronogram started as a love letter to the Hudson Valley,” says Projansky. “A media company is a natural progression from there: helping the independent, creative businesses that are such an important part of the region’s cultural ecosystem that make it so unique. We see the crossover of our two constituencies, readers and advertisers, and the value of localism played out constantly in our pages. When we do readers’ surveys, the ads always top the list of things people love. That used to surprise me, but I think it’s a sign of the health of the economic and cultural landscape.”
Stern and Projansky had a vision and stuck to it; the same could be said of Lori Childers, who has been publishing the Stone Ridge-based biweekly BlueStone Press since the mid-1990s.
“It was needed,” says Childers. “This area of Ulster County was less defined, kind of a place between here and there, but there was a real community here. The BlueStone Press helped describe it and give the area a sense of place. The paper provided a town center of sorts, a place to come together, communicate and share.”
Just to the south of Childers’ bailiwick, web design pros Alex Shiffer and Sharon Richman decided in 2006 to reinvent the Ellenville Journal (b. 1849) as a news website and weekly print paper, renaming it the Shawangunk Journal. Like the BlueStone, it has a cadre of loyal advertisers and readers who squabble on its letters page. And on the east shore of the river, Al Lewis maintains three weeklies—Southern Dutchess News, Northern Dutchess News, and Beacon Free Press—and the web-based Hudson Valley Business Journal, descended from a print publication begun in 1986.
While the major local dailies are owned by major corporations-—the Times Herald Record by Fortress Investment Group, the Kingston Freeman by Digital First Media, and the Poughkeepsie Journal by the Gannet Company — locals can still pick up breaking stories at independent web-only outlets such as the Watershed Post, Mid Hudson News, and Hudson Valley News Network. And while it’s not a newspaper, one local publication was born on the web and grew into a quarterly print magazine.
“It was always in the business plan,” says Melissa Hewitt [sister of CWN publisher Chris Hewitt] of the magazine version of VISITvortex, which covers local businesses and tourism. “We started with videos and photo storefronts on the website, wanting to create a platform where people could learn the behind-the-scenes stories of local businesses.”
The mission of boosting the local indie economy is front and center for creative director Hewitt and her husband, publisher/owner Jesse Marcus; any area business can create a free photo listing on the website, while advertisers get the royal treatment: in-depth videos, Meet the Owners profiles, and listings in Eat/Stay/Play community guides in the print mag.
”Our goal is to present everything beautifully,” says Hewitt. “We shoot and style everything ourselves; we spend a lot of effort, time and money on the editorial side. And we won’t take ads from companies we don’t support.”
There are also niche publications like Valley Table and Edible Hudson Valley, both focusing on food, and Terrie Goldstein’s Professional Image Marketing and Public Relations tends to families with Hudson Valley Parent, Hudson Valley Baby, and Hudson Valley Kids. There’s the newish and quite lovely Organic Hudson Valley. And there are the 15 independent book publishers that Chronogram books editor Nina Shengold reels off without having to stop and think about it.
Between her Chronogram gig and the writing of a book, River of Words, about local authors, Shengold has interviewed about 150 area wordsmiths.
“The well shows no signs of going dry,” she says. “On the contrary, more and more New York writers are moving upriver. They come up to see friends for a weekend, and the scales fall off their eyes.”
At the periodical level, it’s a tangled web of sorts. I’m far from the only writer blessed with bylines in more than one local indie. Marcus and Hewitt met while both were working for Lori Childers on BlueStone Press projects. VISITvortex and Watershed Post have joined forces, along with several conservation organizations, to clean up Catskills trash. And it’s the kind of area where a publisher will even assign a writer to sing the praises of the competition.
“What other publisher would do this?” asks Melissa Hewitt rhetorically. She and her brother, Country Wisdom News publisher Chris Hewitt, share memories of a printer father and grandfather, of growing up with an 1890s letterpress in the garage, and of starting X-press magazine together in 1996. “My brother is a visionary.”
*In the reporting of this story, Anne interviewed several of her freelance clients.