The Best Beat in the World

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By Stacey Asip

My byline first appeared in the Spirit in 1989, under the headline: “The Mayoral Marketeers.” I was fresh out of Columbia Journalism School when Tom Allon assigned a story to me about the candidates all hiring media consultants. (In hindsight, they were probably united in trying to save New Yorkers from the phrase, “How Am I Doin’?” for an unprecedented 13th year in a row.) This type of story wasn’t my forte. I didn’t even know what a political consultant was. Actually, I still don’t. I had hoped for a good crime to cover, at least in the literal sense—a murder, a rape, a grand larceny. But I wanted to write, so I pretended to know what I was doing, and took the assignment. I guess Tom liked it, because shortly afterward, he offered me the newly created job of senior editor.

During the next two years, I think the only thing I didn’t do for the Spirit was cover a cockfight. Tom, Janet Wickenhaver and I were definite underdogs in the world of New York journalism. The three of us loudly resented the publisher if we perceived he was pandering to advertisers. We despised the advertising department anyway, for taking away precious space in the paper from even our humblest reports of community board meetings. There was no Internet, and we had no archive, so we’d forever send interns down to South Street to borrow clip-files from our friends at the New York Post. In exchange, we provided the Post with myriad Page Six items. Newsday, the Daily News and the Village Voice regularly cited our work. It felt good to tell a New York Times editor, (a pompous, former J-School teacher of mine) that no, he couldn’t “borrow” an interview I’d done with a transvestite hooker his reporter was too lazy to find.

I eventually did get to cover some crime. One award-winning series of articles I wrote forced the criminal justice system to drop charges against a homeless man, named William Emerson, who’d been falsely accused of murder. In another piece, I attempted to prove that a rogue cop, Billy Phillips, was framed for a double-murder, because he broke the blue code of silence as key witness for the Knapp Commission’s 1970 police corruption investigation. Two other articles caused East Village dismemberer Daniel Rakowitz to regularly call me collect from Kirby Psychiatric Institute (where he’s presently doing life for chopping up Monika Beerle, the roommate who had tried to evict him). We’d become acquainted through stories I wrote about a journalist investigating Beerle’s murder who had also turned up dead. I recall the five Christmas cards I got that year were all from people in prison.

Who cared that we were underpaid and overworked? I never spent a dime on the countless plays, books and movies I reviewed, let alone the ones I didn’t. What amazed me was that anyone took me seriously! I was thrilled when a member of the then brand-new Blue Man Group thanked me in writing for comparing their work to an obscure hallucinogenic drug (DMT), thereby “getting their work better than anyone else.” I never had to justify to anyone why The Feelies’ latest record was all-important to our upper Westside readership. Ditto for my articles on Julian’s Pool Hall, or the first Lollapalooza show. When I decided it was high time I met monologist Spalding Grey, a Q&A ensued. How we justified, editorially, a feature I wrote about spending a weekend (free, of course) at The Concord Hotel in the Catskills, I’ll never know. What I do know was that it was fantastic sharing control of a weekly newspaper, on the best beat in the world: Manhattan.

Stacey Asip was senior editor at West Side Spirit from 1990 to 1992. She is currently writing a biography of Rebel Without A Cause director Nicholas Ray, and a television series with Legs McNeil based on his book The Other Hollywood.

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