Matthew Albasi and Max Pulcini (above), two young Temple University graduates who love journalism and the city of Philadelphia, recently purchased The Spirit of the River Wards newspaper, which serves the Fishtown, Kensington, Bridesburg, Port Richmond and Northern Liberties neighborhoods.
Their plan is to keep the neighborhood traditions in the paper but at the same time, add new insight. They released their first edition on September 3, 2014 with Albasi and Pulcini as publishers and editors.
What made you decide to purchase The Spirit of the River Ward newspaper?
Albasi: We were trying to figure out what to do with our lives. Max had been working here for a while. We started making these videos (Rise of The Tigers) and we were just talking to the old owners here, trying to figure out some way to work together because we figured we could help them. It eventually came up and they offered us the opportunity to take over the paper.
So, we said, ‘Why not?’ And we bought the paper. It took two years of hard work and business planning. You have to keep in mind that when Max and I started the documentary, I was a full-time student, bartending 40 hours a week and putting together a documentary. Max was doing full-time school, freelancing full-time and putting together the documentary. As soon as we finished that, we were busy trying to buy this place. It was really hectic and a lot of work went into it.
Pulcini: I mean, there were some fun bits. I mean, the conceptualizing of a business plan end was difficult but it was a fun adventure. We are not Fox School of Business students by any stretch. We know how to count money and that’s it. But since then, we’ve learned a lot and that’s been exciting personal growth for both of us.
Ultimately, we’re creatives and we want to create things and we needed some business backing to help us get where we have to go But that’s also, you know, part of the fun of owning a business and owning a publication. It’s creating that team to fit what we want and putting those different pieces together that will make our product fantastic in the end.
How have you changed this publication to be more of what you wanted since you purchased it?
Albasi: Really, we have and we haven’t. There’s a big following and a lot of people who read this paper have been living here for generations. They’ve been reading the newspaper for years.
Pulcini: And they love it. They don’t want us to change it.
Albasi: So, we’ve tried to distill what it is about the paper that they like and tried to add more around it because before now, the amount of time that went into the newspaper was a lot less. You didn’t have full-time employees. Tom and Maryanne [the past owners] were doing it when they got home from work and so the amount of hours that go into the newspaper every week have quadrupled. Because of that, the reporting that Max predominantly takes care of on the newspaper side of things is just a higher quality of reporting.
Pulcini: Yeah, we are professional journalists and it’s weird to say that and realize that. But you know, the guys that were in here before? While they had their pulse on the neighborhood and they knew what was going on, they weren’t journalists. They weren’t reporters. They didn’t know have a professional idea on how to craft a story. It was a passion project for them whereas for us, it’s a fantastic job.
As editors, have you created different beats for the newspaper? Do you have any ideas of the stories you want covered now that you’ve taken over?
Pulcini: Something that we’ve been working on lately is doing a series of reports. The Broken Windows series is one that is examining a pretty hard news issue in the neighborhood and really looking at these harder topics. Before, a front page story may have been about Adaire Elementary School’s Christmas play. While we still put things like that in the newspaper, we are focusing on some harder hitting issues. The education crisis in Philadelphia, drugs in the neighborhood, one of the oldest churches in the neighborhood closing down … and we’re not holding back from reporting on these harder issues.
Albasi: It was a lot more soft news in the publication before.
How did you become so familiar with this area and the people around you?
Albasi: All through journalism school, I waited for the class where somebody told me how to find out what news is. The weird thing is that everyone knows that the Spirit is how to get information out about this neighborhood to this neighborhood, so really, it was the years of work of Tom and Maryanne, the former owners. Getting that into place allowed us to become familiar because now we have a mailbox that gets hundreds of emails a day.
Pulcini: Really, we get thousands of emails a day. From press releases to people leaving comments on our website, people walking in our door. Our door is always open and people are walking in and out every day and they are always dropping off tips.
Do you have any goals set for yourselves and this publication?
Albasi: We’ve definitely got goals. The problem is that they range everything, from making sure this place doesn’t burn down before the day is out to turning this into a force. We are going to do something with it. I don’t’ want it to sound like we are unfocused because we absolutely are. But, the thing is, with journalism the way that it is – you probably hear that journalism is dead, etc., etc., but that’s a lie. It’s just messed up and nobody knows what to do with it. And we probably don’t either but we’re going to try and if we mess up, then we mess up and if we don’t, maybe we can change something.
Pulcini: Small, neighborhood periodicals are needed and that’s because people always care about who their next door neighbor is. They want to know what’s going on on their block.
Albasi: What’s dead is 20 percent profit margins. What’s dead is the old newspaper industry. What’s not dead is telling stories, disseminating information and having conversations with the public.
What do you want the people of this neighborhood to know about you and your business?
Pulcini: I just want people to know that this neighborhood has taught us how to tell stories. If it wasn’t for the Fishtown, Port Richmond, Kensington, Northern Liberties and Bridesburg areas, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing today. And that’s the thing about being the head of a community newspaper: we’re here to service the community. Being part of it is something really special. It’s something that makes me look forward to getting up and going to work every day. It’s extremely gratifying and I just enjoy what we do for this neighborhood.
– Text and images by Marissa Fuller and Elizabeth Heckenberger.
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