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46th anniversary

TBR News Media

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Another year has rolled by and we again marvel at another anniversary this week of the news group now known as TBR News Media. It started with the lowly Village Times 46 years ago, and actually there was nothing lowly about that first issue. It was 52 pages, mailed to every house in Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, and carried some pretty interesting news and graphics.

I guess the biggest news in the April 8th issue, although we didn’t say so, was that there was a second newspaper in town, coming out every Thursday, a day later than the first newspaper, The Three Village Herald. We planned it that way so we could carry most of the week’s news that same week. For example, school board meetings, one of our most important beats, ended late on Tuesday nights and often their agenda didn’t make the other paper until the following week, there being no internet or website in those days, of course. But by coming out on Thursday, while we could report the school news, we couldn’t capture the local supermarket specials, a rich, full page or even two sometimes, because those ads traditionally ran on Wednesday “to give the lady of the house a chance to plan her weekly shopping for the family’s weekends.” Yes, I am quoting the supermarket managers.

This might not strike you as being a particularly significant decision for the newspaper, but it was symbolic of how we viewed our product: news first, advertising second. If we could get the readers, we strategized, the advertising would follow. And history proves us right. We were always something of an upstart. In the beginning, we stopped mailing to every house after the first couple of issues and gave the paper away from news racks in the local stores. Ten months in, we put coin tubes on our newsstands and started to charge a dime, the same as our competition. I can’t tell you, in powerful enough words, how satisfying it was that first day when the dimes rolled out of the tubes and into our palms. Residents were willing to pay, even if only 10 cents, for our efforts.

A couple of years later, we raised the newsstand price to 25 cents, then the industry standard. We were asking a pretty brash question: Were we 21/2 times better than our competition? Yes, there was some tongue clucking about “who did we think we were!” To our relief, our readership grew. Readers put quarters in our tubes and gratification in our hearts. We vowed to work even harder.

What is a community newspaper, really?

We asked ourselves that as we read every other hometown paper we could get our hands on in order to better answer that question. Joining the New York Press Association, which we did two years after we started, helped us network with other publishers across the state for pointers.

We knew that we wanted to be non-partisan, meaning that we would be without party affiliation and completely independent. It was vital that village government news and town board news reach our readers. We particularly favored bragging about our young people, their academic, musical and sports accomplishments. And we created a second section in the paper for cultural events, science and medicine, giving space to local artists and columnists.

We were eager to hear what our readers had to say and made sure we had clearly marked opinion pages for that purpose. Our opinions were there, too. And we thought of the paper as a mirror that was held up to reflect the community we served, providing future historians with the chronology and sentiments of the day.

Most especially, we believed in fairness. And facts. In a controversial situation, we wanted all sides to be heard and heard accurately. We left it to our readers to judge. They were intelligent beings and we never dumbed down the stories for them. Further, we saw as part of our job to protect our communities and their natural beauty from those who would cause harm. Come to think of it, in our six papers, on our website and our social media platforms, that’s about what we still do.