By the time Tom Allon arrived at West Side Spirit to become its editor on Aug. 1, 1986, the paper already had a clear mission. Allon learned that directly from the then-publisher, Steven Bauman.
“He wanted it to be an investigative and robust newspaper, to pursue the truth with neither fear no favor,” said Allon, who today is president and CEO of Manhattan Media, which publishes West Side Spirit. Manhattan Media is also the company behind Our Town, the Spirit’s sister weekly on the East Side, along with New York Press, AVENUE magazine, New York Family, City Hall and The Capitol.
As for the Spirit, Gary Daniels started the newspaper in 1985. The arrival of a “New West Side Paper” was mentioned Feb. 8 of that year in the New York Times. The plan, the Times said, was a newspaper with a circulation of more than 100,000, to be “distributed free in apartment buildings, stores and hotels.” Initially, the paper was meant to “stretch from the Battery to Washington Heights.” To reflect that,the name changed for a few years to Manhattan Spirit. In later years the publication would concentrate on the Upper West Side.
By the time Allon was on board more than a year later, Jerry Finkelstein was a key investor—and he, in turn, installed Bauman, who hired Allon. A quarter-century later, Allon said he is proud that the Spirit has “survived and thrived for 25 years in a cyclical economy.”
These days, the paper is much more than just a publication that arrives via paper. There’s a growing web presence, at www.westsidespirit.com, Facebook and Twitter, and Manhattan Media sponsors and hosts a range of initiatives. The Westy Awards honor West Siders of note each year. The Blackboard Awards pay tribute to excellent schools, teachers and principals. And the Building Worker Awards highlight doormen, porters and other workers throughout the city.
Ronnie Eldridge, a former City Council Member representing the Upper West Side, said she thinks that local newspapers are “the spine of a community,” helping to create the sense of belonging that they cover. She’s looked to the Spirit to fill that role.
“It’s gone through so many variations, but it’s always been something that everyone has looked forward to reading because it was local,” Eldridge said.
Hitting the same theme was Lisa Linden, a public relations expert and CEO of Linden Alschuler & Kaplan.
“Community newspapers provide a critical, hyper-local focus on news and events. They are the backbone of New York’s neighborhoods,” Linden said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
The news itself is rooted in the communities being covered.
“Hyper-local wasn’t a sexy word 25 years ago,” Allon said, “Or even 10 years ago.”
But it remains the secret of the Spirit’s success.