THE GAZETTE, june 25, 1990
Saucy stories sell weekly
Weekly Herald breaking even
Two years ago a couple of journalists set out to build a weekly newspaper with no publishing experience, no business plan and a onepage, tryout edition with only a few headlines and pictures.
They should have been a spectacular failure. But so far the Weekly Herald is making it, and co-publishers Warren Perley and Wesley Goldstein say they aren't surprised at all.
"We're not the smartest guys in the world," says Perley. "We just think we're the craziest, which is what you need."
Whether its publishers are crazy or not, the Weekly Herald has grown into a solid-looking tabloid since its launch as the Hampstead Herald 15 months ago. Its advertising base is strengthening, they say, because their newspaper gets to the homes of some of the wealthiest anglophones in the city. And sales are strong enough to support the paper's 19 employees.
Goldstein and Perley also say the Herald has achieved something few other weekly newspapers can boast — it broke even by the end of its first year. New newspapers usually manage to break even only by the third year.
An expansion into Côte St. Luc, Westmount and the Town of Mount Royal from its base in Hampstead has helped to strengthen the fledgling paper, building the press run to 23,000. Perley and Goldstein say 85 per cent of that goes to single-family homes while the rest is dropped in bundles in apartment lobbies.
Inside, the advertisers are no surprise; among them are expensive car dealerships, real estate firms and sellers of furniture and fashions. But the Herald's editorial style is unlike any other community newsweekly. It resembles a colorful plaid in a sea of monotone suits.
The paper's first pages include coverage of city hail, school boards, local crime and real estate news. Farther inside, however, it presents a mixture of clashing features, as if it wants to offer something to everyone. There are regular excerpts from the cheeky New York-based Spy magazine, a high-society column and a tenant-rights column by Montreal city councillor Arnold Bennett.
"We want to give our readers anything that we think they need or will enjoy," says Perley. "We'll break every rule as long as the paper is original."
Sure enough, there are some original touches — to say the least. A recent edition carried editorials about Meech Lake, including a picture of Clyde Wells as Moses standing on broken eggs. A headline exclaimed "Ladies nurture their sensuality à la mode!" a reference, apparently, to lingerie. And the lead story was about a Westmount man who lost a finger in a powersaw accident.
"People in Westmount like this stuff," Perley says. “They want to know about their neighbors."
It was Perley who has been the driving force behind the Herald and who sold Goldstein on the idea of a community newspaper. And when United Press International's Montreal bureau closed in November 1988, putting Perley out of work, it was he who brought the idea to life.
Perley wanted to start the new project right away, but Goldstein was working at Canadian Press's Montreal bureau and had no intention of leaving.
"Why don't you try to sell some ads," he remembers telling Perley, half expecting that his friend wouldn't be able to sell any at all.
But with unemployment helping to focus his mind, Perley went to the luxury car dealerships brandishing a onepage prototype and promising a newspaper by April 1989. "I sold them on my credibility as a journalist," he recalls. "We sold this as a quality editorial product."
Within the first six weeks, Perley sold $40,000 worth of advertising. Goldstein quit his job at Canadian Press and the two raced to get the paper out for Perley's selfimposed deadline of April 3, 1989.
Since then the copublishers have had to face tough decisions about money and control. Some weeklies try to cut costs by getting other firms to design, typeset, print and distribute the paper. Money often is saved, but the paper tends to lose flexibility and the publishers lose control over the final product.
Goldstein and Perley chose control, buying their own wordprocessing equipment, laying out graphics inshop, doing much of the distribution themselves.
They have also tried to nurture a solid relationship with their printer — that way they can occasionally alter the weekly at the last minute if a big story is breaking.
But those decisions have been expensive. Goldstein — the financial boss — won't say how much money the two had to borrow to get their equipment, or how much they still owe. They do say they lived off their savings in the months before the newspaper broke even.
The editor of the Herald's main rival, the Suburban, says he admires the co-publishers' commitment to their newspaper. But he's not sure he likes what he sees.
"I do have some respect for them," said Christy McCormick. "They're kept this thing alive for a year. But I'm not that crazy about their product."
McCormick wonders about the Herald's frequent returns to sexual subjects and its depictions of women in provocative clothing and poses. The Herald even used a drawing of a naked Adam and Eve — the artist signed his name on Eve's buttocks — in a story about garlic.
"They seem to have gone into sex in kind of a big way," McCormick said. "I tend to think newspapers should be sort of upstanding in public. Perhaps they're finding sex works — I don't know."
McCormick also said his paper had noticed no decline in advertising sales since the Herald arrived. The Suburban, he said, is selling the same or slightly more ads than it was at the same time last year. That's even though the Suburban's ad rates are slightly higher. A full page costs $898 compared to the Herald's $888.
With their newspaper breaking even, the Herald's co-publishers say their next goal is to improve and expand the paper, attract more ads and improve editorial quality.
But Perley jokingly says there is one more item on his agenda. "We want to create a media empire."