don’t remember when I picked up my first copy, but there wasn’t
a whole lot to it. The early Metroland was a thin publication
that seemed more concerned with bars and “foxes” than all
the other newsworthy events swirling about in the environment.
The publication evolved quickly, rapidly becoming a more robust
arts-and- entertainment weekly. In the mid-1980s, during the
reign of Ronald Reagan, the paper evolved further, becoming
more political and developing its capacity to investigate
and report on community issues and events. It had finally
morphed into “The Capital Region’s Alternative Newsweekly.”
What follows are a few of my Metroland flashbacks.
Back in the early 1980s, I had been working with a number
of community safe-energy, disarmament and peace organizations.
One of the projects I took on at that time was to bring films
that addressed these issues into the area. With the first
film series I ran, I quickly learned about the importance
of press releases and events listings in local newspapers,
which I sent for inclusion in Metroland’s calendar.
Despite my efforts, attendance was slim. Showing these films
on a shoestring budget, I did learn the importance of free
media coverage. Getting it was the tricky part.
In 1983, I had my first real opportunity to promote a significant
film event. In 1982, I had hooked up with a number of artists’
organizations through the huge disarmament march and rally
held in New York City on June 6 of that year. I subsequently
found out that a major documentary, In Our Hands, was
being produced about the demonstration, tracked down its producers,
and worked out a deal to get the film to Albany as a fundraiser
for area peace groups. The film’s producers, Stan Warnow and
Robert Richter, both agreed to press interviews if I could
I quickly reserved the Capital District Psychiatric Center
auditorium in Albany for the showing, and a room at the Albany
Public Library for a film preview. Among the area arts press
I contacted was Bruce Hallenbeck, a local horror-film producer
who wrote for Metroland.
Hallenbeck was interested in the story, took me up on the
offer of interviews with the producers and showed up at the
film preview. Hallenbeck, the late Marty Moynihan of the Times
Union and I hunched around a library conference room table
as the 16mm film unwound for 90 minutes. There was a short
intermission as I switched reels.
Hallenbeck’s article about In Our Hands appeared in
the Dec. 8, 1983, issue of Metroland, two days before
the public showing. It did a great job of covering the breadth
of the film, focusing on the words of Warnow and Richter and
getting the true excitement associated with this documentary
across. Hundreds lined up for the film showing, raising a
good chunk of change for two local disarmament groups and
proving to me the value of good press outreach. What I learned
about promoting media coverage for this film I would use time
and again in the future for getting the word out about projects
I was working on, from demonstrations to marathon poetry readings.
When Metroland moved its offices into 4 Central Ave.,
my relationship with the paper changed: Since I now worked
nearby, I could easily drop by on my bicycle and personally
bug the paper’s staff about covering events and making sure
items I mailed in were getting into calendar listings. It
was also around this time that I got a phone call from a new
editor at Metroland named Stephen Leon.
I wrote my first letter to the editor to Metroland
in August of 1985. I had worked on media coverage for a major
event marking the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima
and no one from Metroland showed up. In a subsequent
article in the paper, a writer claimed she could not find
our gathering, so she went elsewhere. In my letter I let the
writer know what she had missed. Leon called to verify I’d
written the letter. Our conversation soon went well beyond
this, as I provided an overview of local nuclear issues and
groups working on them. He seemed genuinely interested and
made it clear that he wanted to take the paper beyond arts
and entertainment. It sounded good to me. Following that conversation,
I upped my press releases and personal pitches to the paper
and got to know a number of the writers on staff.
My first invitation to write for the paper came via a phone
call from Leon in early 1988. He asked me to do a guest editorial
on the INF Treaty being promoted by the Reagan administration
to reduce the threat of nuclear war erupting in Europe. The
treaty was a transparent attempt to sound like disarmament,
when it was nothing of the sort. My editorial ran in the Feb.
In 1990, I got in a tangle with Price Chopper over their claims
that their new plastic grocery bags were “engineered for our
environment.” I did an opinion piece for Metroland
on the topic, and Neil Golub eventually changed his bag claims
and offered recycling boxes for them (more on this in my next
column). I followed this with book reviews and a piece on
composting for the 20th-anniversary-of-Earth-Day issue and
an editorial commemorating the 45th anniversary of the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima.
In the fall of 1996 I responded to a Metroland call-for-writers
ad, and pitched to Leon the idea of doing this column. After
a few months of further discussions and detailing, The Simple
Life premiered on May Day 1997.
Over the last 25 years I’ve watched this weekly grow into
a real alternative paper for the Capital Region, and hope
many more years of challenging print lie ahead. In these times
of massive media consolidations, a truly free press may increasingly
rely upon the tenacity and presence of such alternative papers.