THE GAZETTE, June 6, 1991
Perley pounds pavement to resurrect the Herald
Warren Perley just doesn't know when to quit.
Today, four months after staffers wept as the Weekly Herald closed its doors, Perley is pounding the pavement, going door to door in Côte St. Luc and Hampstead, Westmount and Town of Mount Royal, looking for subscriptions for the allnew and improved Herald/Star/Chronicle/Whatever.
The working title, like everything else, is up in the air right now. But Perley and a group of young, loyal former Herald staffers have a dream, and neither wind nor rain nor sprained knees will keep them from trying to land the 2,000 paid subscriptions Perley wants before he commits himself to try, try again.
Perley knows he's bucking a recession and a trend that says you can't float a brandnew anglo production in Montreal. But after just two weeks, he and his young volunteers have already pulled in 200 subscriptions at a cost of $23.11 (including taxes) for 48 issues.
"It's not that we needed the subscriptions to start up again," Perley said when we got together at the Monkland Tavern on Tuesday night to talk about his new project while a student film crew from Dawson College ground away on a documentary about Perley's effort.
"I decided I wanted to get 2,000 subscriptions so I could measure the community's support. If they
want the paper, we'll do it. If they don't —"
Perley already had a tentative job offer in the U.S. from the Washington Post when businessman Gerry Weinstein offered his financial support to make Perley's vision a reality: to publish a community newspaper which "does more than quote politicians."
An idealistic approach
If the subscriptions pile up in sufficient numbers, Perley wants to begin publishing the first week of September. His approach is idealistic. He wants to put out a paper which can act as a clearinghouse for the communities it serves and play a role in revitalizing the anglophone community in Montreal.
It's a tall order, but the hyperactive Perley is working 14 hours a day to make it happen. Even a sprained knee — he fell down a flight of stairs while soliciting subscriptions in Hampstead — hasn't slowed him.
"We won't be covering the potholes and the catinatree stories," Perley says. "And we won't be trying to unearth scandals. The Gazette has the resources to do that much better than we ever could.
"We want to be a tool to help the community rebuild. I want to use my network to bring people in contact with each other — and to succeed we have to be part of the social fabric in the community."
Montreal isn't without recent success stories in the English media. The Mirror — slick, sassy, wellwritten and trendy — has already established itself as a creditable "alternative" newspaper.
With varying degrees of success, other community newspapers such as the Monitor, the Downtowner and the (West Island) Chronicle on a larger scale serve their neighborhoods well, but what Perley is trying to do is more ambitious.
He wants his paper to play an active role in promoting Canada by giving ordinary people a voice and an opportunity to take part in a debate which he feels is dominated by lawyers and politicians. He wants to get involved in the national unity debate while serving as a counterweight to the neoRhodesian hysteria of the Suburban.
Part of the effort to save Canada
Perley said he believes it's going to take a grassroots effort to save Canada, and community newspapers can be part of that effort.
"There's a leadership vacuum," he said. "Every week the polls change, every week the politicians change their view."
Perley, a veteran of the Gazette and Montreal Star newsrooms, also wants to take time to deal with serious issues in the community such as illiteracy and domestic violence.
He sunk all he had — financially as well as emotionally — in the defunct Weekly Herald, whose demise also ended his friendship with his former co-publisher, the genial baseball writer Wesley Goldstein. That's behind him now.
"We hit a recession, we were underfinanced, we went under," Perley said. "It's not a crime."
Staffers who worked for Perley were heartbroken when the Weekly Herald went under, at least partly because they felt they were losing an excellent teacher.
"When you had a problem with a story, Warren always had time to talk to you," former Herald reporter Katherine Wilton said. "When the paper closed, I cried for two weeks."
The next few weeks will determine whether Perley has a newspaper on his hands or another anglo failure story.
"I think we have another 500 or 600 people who have said they will mail in their subscriptions," Perley says. "If they do, I think it would create a bandwagon effect that would just keep on rolling."