2024-06-13 7:07 AM

A Short History of The Falls Church News-Press’ First 30 Years

TWO OF THE YOUNG NEWS-PRESS’ lions from its first year holding forth at the 1992 Memorial Day Parade and Festival: Nate Martin (left) and Danny O’Brien.

After 30 years of still-continuing consecutive weekly publications of the mighty Falls Church News-Press, our circulation has never failed to include delivery to every household in the City of Falls Church.

This report is an updated revision of one I wrote for the newspaper’s 25th anniversary five years ago. The outlook remains the same as then, and for many years before that. In the last five years, we’ve gone through a one term presidency of the nation’s worst ever and a violent insurrection in January. Who knows what else is in store? But we survived five years of the media being relentlessly attacked by the president of the U.S. as purveyors of lies and “fake news” when in fact it was the perpetrator of those attacks who was, and is, doing the real lying, outrageous lying that has poisoned the political landscape of the U.S.

Over the period of these last five years, as owner-editor of the News-Press who has written every editorial since Day One on March 28, 1991 and a weekly national political affairs column every week without fail since early 1997, I have been relentless in my exposés and sharp criticisms of this immediate past president.

Ten of my national affairs columns published consecutively this spring have just been published as a separate pamphlet, “The January 6, 2021 Capitol Sacking: Putin’s Role.”

It makes a very compelling case of what is referenced in the title, and I commend it to all.

Having been fighting the good fight for the moral and ethical role of an independent media under the Trump cloud these past five years, and able to stay in business as the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its terrible toll, we come to our 30th anniversary battle worn, but proud and happy to still be here, working on consecutive weekly edition number 1,575 and counting.

So, what follows here is, with revisions for dates and numbers, how I characterized our powerful little newspaper’s role and impact in March of 2016:

It’s with a profound sense of humility and appreciation that I am writing this short history of the Falls Church News-Press’ first (now) 30 years.

Part 1: These Last 30 Years

In the midst of our challenging first year of publication, in December 1991, the News-Press was honored by the Falls Church City Council, being named “Business of the Year” for 1991. At an event to honor local businesses with a series of awards, including ones for businesses marking their 25th anniversaries in the City, when it was announced that the News-Press was winner of the “Business of the Year,” I came forward to accept, being duly touched by the honor, and said that while I was overwhelmingly grateful, the award I really wanted was one for 25 years of service in the City. So you can see why the 25th anniversary held such special meaning for me. Some may judge what follows here as a bit of a tooting of our own horn, but I intend it as a crowing with happiness for all that has happened.

I hope readers will enjoy perusing the front pages from those first five years (published by us as a separate volume on our 25th anniversary and still in print). There was a lot of contention in those early days of the News-Press dealing with a divided City Council, the disposition of land that was eventually sold to the University of Virginia for a dollar, the eviction of the food for the needy distribution program out of the old high school site in the dead of winter, the “Taco Wars” over the proposed location of a Taco Bell where a long-abandoned old gas station used to be (which is indicative of how tough development of any sort was in those days), and major triumphs such as the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of the School Board budget request, which I take particular pride in helping to engineer as president of the Chamber at the time, and which I believe was a watershed moment for the City to fundamentally change the relationship between the City’s businesses and the wider community, opening the way for the kind of much more robust development that began in the early 2000s.

(To set the stage for all this, the City of Falls Church is an independent jurisdiction with its own taxing authority under Virginia law that sits on 2.2 square miles inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway, sandwiched between Fairfax County with a population of over a million, and Arlington County with 230,000 or so. Falls Church had a population of 9,500 in 1991, was 13,300 in 2016 and estimated to be over 15,000 now. Almost everyone here works for the federal government or institutions trying to influence it. The CIA headquarters is right up the street, and the Pentagon is a few miles south. It is more than five miles on the interstate highway, I-66, that runs by Falls Church to the Potomac River and the Washington, D.C. border, and there are two Metro subway stations next to it that hook it up to the entire region.

Falls Church has the highest percentage of persons with college or advanced degrees of any jurisdiction in the U.S., and the highest household income, as well, although that is due to a lot of two-income households and few are filthy rich, as far as I know. The demographics trend to white, older and politically progressive, but not entirely so on any of those three at all. It is getting younger as the reputation of the schools is drawing younger families and record enrollments in the school system. Overall, this is a tough audience to play for, and that has been a big part of the challenge and the fun).

The past 30 years owning, operating and participating in the process of producing almost 1,575 consecutive weekly editions of the mighty Falls Church News-Press, have been far and away the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. It has not always been sweetness and light, as an independent newspaper and opinionated editor must expect to take the brunt of a lot of disdain from those who don’t always agree with it, but that is far more than offset by the unexpected kindness and appreciation often expressed by complete strangers in a check-out line at a local supermarket, for example, and the satisfaction of knowing one is doing one’s best to provide a vital public service. I am confident the newspaper has accumulated far more fans than detractors over the years.

IN DECEMBER 1991, less than a year into its publication, the News-Press was named the F.C. Business of Year by the City Council in what was a controversial vote at the time. Here, founder Nicholas Benton receives the award.

Compared to that “Business of the Year” ceremony in 1991, there have been so many rewards and achievements that the paper has been responsible for, far too many to count. We’ve taken great joy in being able to host holiday parties every year that have drawn hundreds each time from all walks in Falls Church, and complimentary summer social mixers at our office in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce.

Among the most cherished rewards have been those who have worked with me on the newspaper, beginning with Danny O’Brien (more on him below) and with the first hire of a part-time student in 1992 in what became a long succession of students from the local George Mason High School (whose name has been changed to Meridian High just this year) in 1992. The first, a lad named Nate Martin, has just this year turned 45, if he doesn’t mind my saying so, still adoring his high school sweetheart, and sharing two children with her. He was first in the long list. Among them along the way have been Andrew Turner, who came on board in 1993 and now after finishing college worked in Budapest and London as a tax accountant for major multinational corporations (and who started by helping me to send out bills to our advertisers every week).

Jody Fellows started with us as a senior in high school in 1996, and after finishing college, starting in 2001 for 18 years to 2020 worked as the managing editor of the News-Press, with Megan and three kids added in the process. He took on more and more responsibilities for the paper as the time went on. Lucas Hardi, who did cartoons for the News-Press, is now a gifted video game design artist with three kids, whose wife, Letty, is now on the Falls Church City Council. Simon van Steyn, who wrote colorful Critter Corner captions for the News-Press, is now an accomplished video production specialist for the State Department. Peter Laub is now an administrator at Meridian High after teaching English for a number of years, stepping into the shoes of the legendary Michael Hoover, who was such an important part of the News-Press as a columnist and occasional reporter. Also over first decade or so, the many memorable figures included Patricia Blystone, Julie Day, Jackie Droujinsky, Paul Donio, Peg Jones, Jenny Edwards, Bill Johnson, Joe Driver, Paul Greenberg, Brian Boyle, Vicki Rhoden, Drew Maier, Teddy Wiant, Nathan Hamme, Joel Hardi, Isaac Blake, Jason Motlagh, Michael Cary, Adam Chandler, Beau Fay, James Tatum, Chris Geurtsen, Sean Nannery, Dan Arnaudo, Paul Arnaudo, Andrew Goetting, Eric Jacobs, Mo Sadeghi, Alaina Sadick, Josh Singer, Sean Snider, David Sprankle, John Humphries, his sons David and Robbie, Drew Maier and Nate Taylor.

In the latter 1990s, Blackwell Hawthorne came to us as a man at age 75 who was angry as a wet hen when he’d been laid off by a rival newspaper because he couldn’t keep up with its computerization demands. He became the best advertising salesman we ever had, at least up to the last couple years, and worked for us until a couple of months before his death 13 years later at age 88. Blackie, as everyone knew him, had an incredible story to tell about his active service in World War II that he told in an interview for us, that when his fighter plane was hit over Germany and was going down, a co-pilot ran up to him with panic in his eyes to report that he didn’t have a chute. Blackie could not accommodate him and jumped as the plane veered in to crash. He had been secretly haunted by that all this life since until he told us his story.

In the late 1990s, the News-Press sponsored participants from its staff, beginning with me, in annual AIDS Rides, when over 2,000 people signed up to ride bikes from Raleigh, North Carolina to D.C. to raise money for AIDS research and treatments. We convinced the organizers of the rides to re-route the bikers through the City of Falls Church, which became the only jurisdiction along the route to turn out a large police contingent to ensure safe rides through the City.

The News-Press has enjoyed sustained contributions from our local politicians who’ve provided exclusive periodic, if not weekly, reports to our readers, from U.S. Reps. Jim Moran and Don Beyer, who wrote a column as Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor in our very first edition, Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross to State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple and Dick Saslaw, Delegates Bob Hull, Kaye Kory, Jim Scott and Marcus Simon.

In 2001, the late Falls Church City Manager Dan McKeever, such a seminal influence in getting the City to move forward, undertook a City-wide survey asking where people got their news about the City. The results, which was pushed that August, showed that overwhelmingly the citizens got their news from one of two sources: the News-Press or the City’s own Focus newsletter, mailed to every household every month. The drop-off was incredibly dramatic after that, including all radio, TV (including Falls Church Cable) and Internet sources. As a result, starting in July 2002, the City contracted for two full pages in the News-Press each week, providing far more expanded news and information than its Focus newsletter could and at a fraction of the cost. That happy arrangement continued until 2008 when fiscal and political pressures on the City Council killed it. We’d love to see it back.

In 2005 I granted a gifted young writer, Darien Bates, time to do extensive research into the real story of the struggle to integrate the Falls Church Schools in the 1950s, and it became a lengthy and extraordinary, landmark two-part report. Two of our talented sports writers, Mike Hume and Alex Prewitt, have gone on to big-time jobs covering sports at the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated.

In July 2010, we celebrated the publication of the 1,000th consecutive weekly edition of the News-Press, inviting citizens and dignitaries to offer their support and congratulations. Every leading official in the state, from both our U.S. Senators, the governor, our area congressmen and state legislators, not to mention local officials, put their names to that, along with hundreds of prominent Falls Church citizens.

Other important contributors to the paper in the last decade included Leslie Poster, Natalie Bedell, Drew Costly, Jonathan Harper, Dean Edwards, Diana Glazer, Eamonn Rockwell, Nancy Davis, Danielle Manigault, Joe Fridling, Donna Talla, Scott Greene, Lou Emery, Roberto Flores, Deborah Smyth, Marilyn Austin, and Helen Walters.

In the last year, we’ve had the benefit of a small but highly competent staff that has remained intact through the pandemic: Nick Gatz, Matt Delaney, Melissa Morse, Ted White, Julio Idrobo and me. The current team is rock solid and unmatched. Nick Gatz is now our longest tenured besides me since the departure of Jody Fellows in 2020, having been a loyal, reliable and immensely talented design and technology chief since 2007. His myriad contributions continue to be amazing. Melissa Morse is in her second lengthy stint as our enormously valued ad sales and office czar, now continuing to work remotely from new digs in South Georgia. Matt Delaney is a gifted writer and team player getting it all done. Ted White graces us weekly as our backstop proofreader and Julio Idrobo has been the most reliable and conscientious deliverer of our goods to Falls Church doorsteps in our history.

Over the years, our exclusive columnists have made major contributions, too, from Tom Whipple’s groundbreaking Peak Oil column to Wayne Besen’s Anything But Straight and Our Man in Arlington columns from Dick Barton and in recent years, Charlie Clark. We’ve also been home to exclusive columns by U.S. Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir and the late Helen Thomas, the legendary White House correspondent who finished out her public career with a weekly column written for the News-Press that appeared for over a year prior to her passing in 2013. In January 2016, we published the insightful and articulate columns of Falls Church’s truly promising operatic talent Samuel Waters in the weeks before his death at age 22 from cancer.

While we enthusiastically backed Falls Church’s “Favorite Son” Don Beyer over his two terms as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in the early 1990s and race for governor in 1996 (and now in his election and outstanding service to the U.S. Congress), since the statewide election of Mark Warner as governor of Virginia in 2000, the eastern half of Fairfax County, combined with Falls Church and the predictably progressive Arlington and Alexandria have provided more than the total margins of victory statewide in the elections of now-Senator Tim Kaine for governor, the Falls Church area’s Jim Webb for the U.S. Senate, Warner for the U.S. Senate, Kaine for the U.S. Senate, Terry McAuliffe for governor, U.S. President Barack Obama twice (breaking a streak of successive GOP wins in presidential primaries dating back to 1964) and current President Joe Biden for president in 2020. The News-Press has been smack in the middle of where these margins were achieved in every case, relentlessly and without apology championing progressive values.

Among our most vital supporters over the 25 years was the late Robert S. “Hap” Day, for many years the executive director of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, an important personal friend and organic liaison between the News-Press and the Chamber. The two of us began the tradition of a weekly “power lunch” on Mondays before my first edition was published that has carried on to this day, lively weekly lunches currently at Anthony’s, and we also shared duties doing a weekly radio and then TV show on Falls Church Cable TV that ran roughly until “The Commander” passed away at age 93 in December 2013.

Also especially vital have been friend and CPA Michael Diener and my ex-wife and ongoing treasured companion (and our legal counsel) Janine Schollnick Benton and her mother, the irrepressible London Eastender Eileen Hecht Levy.
Between October 2010 and September 2012, I authored 100 weekly “Gay Science” columns that were published on our website and reprinted in a Washington, D.C. gay community paper that have now been compiled into a single book, “Extraordinary Hearts.” Following a rave review by gay pioneer icon Larry Kramer, it was in the “Best Seller” ranks among “gay studies” books on Amazon.com, making it to Number One three times. In that context, I was named an “OUTstanding Virginian” by Equality Virginia in 2012, and a “Capital Pride Hero” by the Washington D.C. Pride Festival organization in 2014. I have since added new three new books, a short biography of my great great grandfather, Union solider John Avery Benton, an edited version of my “Extraordinary Hearts” columns and titled, “Education of a Gay Soul,” and last week the aforementioned pamphlet on the Capitol sacking, all published by BCI Books, the book publishing arm of Benton Communications, the official corporate entity that publishes the News-Press each week.

The Falls Church News-Press has been named Business of the Year by the Falls Church City Council in 1991 and 2001, I was named Businessman of the Year in 2007, the Pillar of the Community by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce in 1993 and 2003 and the grand marshal of the annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade in 2001. The paper has been named to the Media Honor Roll of the Virginia School Boards Association, nominated by the local School Board, going on a dozen times.

Over the course of the 30 years, I have written every editorial in every edition of the paper, and since 1997 have also written a national affairs column for every edition every week, over and above my contribution of articles and photographs about local and regional events in every issue from No. 1 to now. Oh yes, not to forget that since 1997, I have also contributed a hand-drawn “Nick Knack” cartoon every week from then until very recently.

Part 2: Then and Now

Compared to 1991, three things are notable about the City of Falls Church that, while naturally we wouldn’t presume to take significant credit for, still I take enormous satisfaction from knowing the newspaper’s role helped contribute to all of these. We’ve stood editorially steadfast, unyielding and foursquare behind all of these developments.

First, the City has sustained itself as an independent jurisdiction despite the cries from some quarters at all points in the process that it should relinquish its independence and become absorbed into the much larger Fairfax or Arlington counties. Whatever the powerful interests in those neighbors that have coveted an ability to control the political process in Falls Church, they’ve been held at bay to the benefit of everyone in the City in terms of quality of services and the attention to individual needs, including for students in the schools.

Second, the City’s school system has continued to grow and flourish. After a severe fall-off in attendance at the City schools that bottomed out in the mid-1980s, the schools’ rebound since has benefited, we believe, from the unflinching support they’ve been provided in many ways from the News-Press, including editorial support for its annual budget requests from the City, and they have enjoyed an unbroken growth in enrollment and quality ever since, including the completion of an amazing state of the art high school that will be fully occupied for the first time next month.

This space could not contain the many ways the News-Press has sought since its inception to support the young people in Falls Church through supporting its schools.

For one, I being as an openly gay man and gay rights pioneer from “back in the day,” founded the “Nicholas F. Benton Diversity Affirmation Education Fund” of the Falls Church Education Foundation with two large personal contributions halfway through the last decade, which were used to sponsor anti-bullying and empathy-enhancing “Challenge Days” at George Mason High School for a number of years.

For another, starting in our second year, the News-Press offered an annual scholarship to George Mason seniors who won essay contests about their plans to pursue careers “enfranchising the disenfranchised.” For a number of years, we also hosted annual “Day at the Ball Game” events, offering free hot dogs, peanuts and soda to everyone in the community to come out and support the high school’s baseball team for a day.

Third, the City’s tax base has been expanded, to afford the schools and much more, since the News-Press has been on the scene, and I served two consecutive terms as the president of the local Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s. I founded the News-Press almost as a collaborative effort with the Chamber, as I’ve already mentioned, and you will read still more about below, and my paper has supported most of the major new projects in the commercially-zoned areas of the City.

This followed years of almost no significant development in the City, and some legendary accounts of how major development was opposed. The reader will see from the front pages of the first years of the News-Press that we advocated for an economic development use of City-owned property by the West Falls Church Metro in the form of a baseball stadium that would also provide the schools with a first-rate athletic facility. It was killed and soon after, the land was sold to the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech for $1, but now it is on the verge of being folded into a massive 40-acre mixed use development, including 10 acres of City-owned land the site of the just demolished old high school, the Virginia Tech occupied seven acres and 23 acres owned by WMATA at its West Falls Church Metrorail station.

With the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors just having signed off on this plan, the combined properties will become developed into one of the wider Metro region’s most dynamic, especially if adjacent lands owned by Beyer Automotive and Federal Realty are also incorporated into it.

The City of Falls Church’s evolution to a pro-development posture and advocate to bring about its current potential has been an indispensable part of my and our newspaper’s responsibility to promote the resources for the City’s public infrastructure and schools (it is hard to imagine that no child who entered the Falls Church Schools since 1991 ever knew his or her home town without its own newspaper). It took time.

AT THE NEWS-PRESS’ weekly radio show on WFAX in the Little City, editor Benton (center) with frequent guest and friend, F.C. accounting firm chief, Michael Diener (right).

For example, if one were able to set side-by-side what so many commercial properties in the City looked like when the News-Press started in 1991 compared to now, I think the point would be made. To name a few, the Spectrum (including Solace Outpost) was an empty lot partially covered by a dilapidated surface parking lot. The Byron and its ground floor retail was a Red Lobster placed as a stand-alone building surrounded by a sea of asphalt parking on all sides. The Broadway was built on a lot that was home to a former Ad Com art supply building that shut down to become an eyesore for over a decade.

Pearson Square was seven mostly-undeveloped acres with a small string of shops and a duck-pin bowling alley that had burned down. The Read Building replaced an old auto repair shop. The Northgate replaced an old funeral home that had shut down. The Hilton Garden Inn sits on what was a weed-infested parking lot and the Kensington on the site of a free-standing Burger King. The nearly-completed Founders Row was a gas station and a 7-Eleven.

Other new projects have transformed similar properties, like the Lincoln at Tinner Hill replacing an old car dealership and the 300 West Broad with its giant Harris-Teeter, replacing the old U.S. Post Office and Anthony’s Restaurant, both of which successfully relocated. In the queue for development soon are Insight Properties’ development at Broad and Washington, promising a mega Whole Foods market, Atlantic Realty’s One City Center project above Ireland’s Four Provinces across the street, and Mill Creek’s Founders Row 2 across the street from its current Founders Row. Still, much more is yet to come. Several valued small businesses and restaurants have also persisted through all this.
Moreover, in terms of the community itself, it must be added that we took great heart in our newspaper’s role as a catalyst with others to successfully thwart an effort by those who sought to turn the historic Falls Church Episcopal – located in the center of the City dating back to the George Washington era – into an exclusionary arch-conservative mega-church.

After years of trying to bully the City Council into deeding over a public street, those forces engineered a vote of the church’s large congregation to defect from the national Episcopal denomination in opposition to its election of an openly-gay priest to standing as a bishop in 2005. Those defectors claimed the property and occupied it for six years before the courts finally found in favor of the Episcopal diocese and they were ordered out. The News-Press kept the spotlight on these developments throughout and provided ongoing editorial encouragement to the flock of “continuing Episcopalians” who set up worship across the street until they got their church back, such that when they were allowed to reclaim the property, they’d sustained the capacity for a robust revival that continues now.

The “continuing Episcopalians” prevailed over many challenging years and have just called a new rector who is in a committed same-sex relationship, a great irony given it was objection to such relationships that spurred the original defection.

All along, for example, we’ve been a tireless proponent of affordable housing and are happy for some real progress in that area that has begun to be made. Also, in the last year’s heightened awareness of persisting racial and other social inequities in our culture, we’ve stood foursquare behind local efforts to address them, including the School Board’s difficult decision to change the name of two public schools here because earlier names were for persons who owned slaves. We also co-sponsored a 2019 forum on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on LGBT issues with the Social Action Committee of Falls Church and Environs.

We’re very proud of the role we’ve played editorially advocating, informing and educating the public on behalf of all these developments, at the same time as encouraging efforts to allow the existing displaced businesses to continue to prosper, even if in new locations.

Part 3: How This All Started

I was born with printer’s ink in my veins. I published my first newspaper when I was eight years old. I wasn’t just a writer, I produced a newspaper with headlines and layout. With my mom’s help, I got my hands on the precursor to the mimeograph machine, a “hectograph” gelatine sheet that, with the right kind of pencil, could reproduce up to 10 copies, each a little fainter than the last, like the one that my first-through-fourth grade teacher used in the two-room school house where I attended in my early years.

My beautiful mom obtained the hectograph for me when we drove together to the county seat and went into the school supply building. The lady there told us that none of their supplies were for sale to the public. Mom told me to go wait outside. About 10 minutes later, she emerged with the hectograph.

When I produced copies of my Benton Star, I went around and sold them to the neighbors for a dime. I still have a dim copy framed in my office that my mom saved for me. I did other “in house” newspapers and realized that my motive was to augment my mother’s unrelenting efforts at harmony in our home, which wasn’t always easy to say the least.

I became editor of my high school and college papers, and began working for my home town daily paper as a sophomore in high school. Out of graduate school (the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., Class of 1969), I became the principal writer for a legendary pioneering counterculture weekly, the Berkeley Barb as the anti-Vietnam War movement raged, wrote the editorial for the first edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper as the gay liberation movement raged, and co-produced a couple editions of my own newspaper, The Effeminist, as the gay and feminist movements raged.

I consider it vital to add that my predisposition to newspapers was matched for me by sentiments which led to my decision to attend and graduate with honors from a progressive graduate theological seminary. The inclusive and universal values affirmed and taught there have formed the basis of my personal identity for my entire life, and I’ve always thought of newspapering as my vocation, or calling, rather than simply a profession.

Fast forwarding through some unhappy years, in October 1987 I incorporated my own news service in Washington, D.C., which became the corporate context that I utilized when I made the decision in early December 1990 to launch the News-Press with the involvement of one other person, a 20-year-old sidekick with no newspaper experience but a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement. I had been seriously thinking of doing it for a couple years before that after moving to Falls Church in November 1985.

U.S. NAVY COMMANDER (Ret.) Robert S. ‘Hap’ Day, the executive director of the F.C. Chamber of Commerce and loyal advisor and friend to the News-Press for two decades.

In 1987, I attended the first ever class offered in television production offered by the Falls Church Cable Access Corporation and made a cherished friend there, H. Robert (Bob) Morrison, who was happy to work with me to produce the FCCAC’s first ever public access program, “Eye on Washington,” which completed over 50 half-hour editions with me as the host and Bob as the affable and talented producer.

In the spring of 1990, we decided to produce the first ever “Election Night Live” show for the FCCAC to give the City’s public swift and first hand results of the City Council elections in early May with a live format that included interviews with the candidates and others. Meanwhile, I periodically had lunch with Bob Morrison in the cafeteria of the National Geographic Building in Washington, D.C., where he worked, to talk about the idea of starting a Falls Church newspaper.
Then in November 1990, the City’s then Public Information Office director Barbara Gordon (who went on to serve in a number of positions at City Hall into the mid-2000s, including a stint as Assistant City Manager) decided to do a lengthy write up of the previous May’s “Election Night Live” in the City’s monthly newsletter, The Focus,” that at the time was mailed to everyone in the City.

I took the notoriety that article provided as my cue to launch my newspaper, which began in earnest in early December. I was invited to speak before various groups about it, and to meet with important local leaders, and the key breakthrough came when I was invited to speak to the monthly meeting of the board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce in late December.

Much to my surprise, at the initiative of its executive director “Hap” Day, who went on to become a famous friend of mine, the Chamber board wasted no time voting unanimously at that very meeting to provide a ringing endorsement of my effort.

I then bought a mailing list for all the members of the local Chamber, about 230 labels, and enclosed in envelopes to them all a cover letter and a stamped return postcard with two boxes to check, one indicating an interest in advertising were a newspaper to be founded, and another indicating no interest. The response was, by all standards, extraordinary. Over 60 percent of the postcards were mailed back to me with the box checked expressing interest.

I literally took that pile of postcards to the bank, which turned out to be a newly-formed local bank which had a mandate to serve its local community. Its president was on the Chamber board and was present when I’d met with them in December. A very modest line of credit was granted that allowed the purchase of one 380 computer and a printer.

I had to set a firm date for the first issue to work with, and chose March 28, 1991. My young collaborator Danny O’Brien went around crowing, “Have you heard the news? Come March 28 Falls Church is going to have its own newspaper!” He helped sell some of the first advertisements, including to two who have never failed to advertise in the paper from its first issue to the present.

I decided at the outset to include a Platform composed of seven principles that I drew from my hometown newspaper I grew up with and which I described in the very first editorial in the News-Press as “the kind of mandate the blessed right to free speech imposes on the institution of the press in any democratic society.” Those seven principles, which I have never seen the likes of in all my travels and relentless curiosity examining other newspapers, are these: Keep the news clear and fair; Play no favorites, never mix business and editorial policy; Do not let the news columns reflect editorial comment; Publish the news that is public property without fear or favor of friend or foe; Accept no charity and ask no favors; Give “value received” for every dollar you take in; and, Make the paper show a profit if you can, but above all keep it clean fearless and fair.

It was little less than total chaos getting that first issue ready by our deadline at our tiny first office at 105 N. Virginia Avenue. It was our first of what became four locations for our offices, the most recent being at the same address where we started (different suite). We worked all night on that first issue, and as the deadline approached, as dawn began to break on March 27, we looked out our second story windows to see that all the cherry blossom trees on N. Virginia had blossomed over night. That was our sign to press ahead!

At our Maryland-based printer, when the press bell rang and everything started to move, it was a very special moment. As the papers started chugging onto a conveyor belt, I couldn’t help but stand on a box and loudly exclaim, “Let every tyrant tremble! A free press is the voice of the people in defense of liberty and freedom everywhere!” The noise of the press drowned me out so that only a couple of pressmen gave me funny looks.

I had arranged for our distributor to be ready back in Falls Church. But the only element I failed to provide for was a way to get the 7,500 copies from the printer to our distributor. Three of us rode up to the printer in the tight Mustang convertible provided by our invaluable friend Bill Johnson without a thought to getting all those papers back. We found someone who ferried papers for other organizations present, and made him a handsome cash offer to deliver mine, as well, to our distributor waiting for them in a living room in Falls Church.

That done, we got back to Falls Church as the sun was coming up on March 28. Later that same day, after some sleep, I decided to put out the second edition the very next week. That turned into a very key decision, as the mighty News-Press has never missed a week of publication for 1,575 weeks, and counting, since.





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