By Mack Liederman
This is a story about the internet age, murder and the one print newspaper that survived it all.
Thursday is business as usual for The Westfield Leader. Publisher Mr. Horace Corbin, the man in charge here, sits in his humble office, working at an old desktop computer. There’s a box of Gold Marlboros on a big center table and a water cooler in the corner. Corbin calls his nine other full-time staff members into the room for their 1 p.m. staff meeting.
“Mike, how big is the paper going to be next week?” Corbin asks.
Mr. Mike Bartiromo, head of Graphic Design and Marketing, takes a conservative guess, based on the number of adsThe Leader already secured. This week it’s 20, a larger paper than usual. Editor Mr. Paul Peyton then goes over assignments and story ideas, Sales Manager Mr. Jeff Gruman talks about ad inserts and Community Editor Ms. Suzette Stalker reviews that morning’s issue with the staff.
Most of the staff have been at The Leader for over 20 years. However, they are not journalists by training. It was interesting circumstances, to say the very least, that brought them all together at the 126-year-old newspaper.
“Every 30 years in Westfield, something really bad happens,” chuckles Corbin, leaning deeper into the back of his chair.
The year was 1996. Former Leader Publisher Mr. Jeffrey Bauer was sitting in the newspaper office on 50 Elm St. when his wife walked in, pointing a .357 Magnum revolver. Moments later, Bauer was dead along with his estranged wife, who then turned her weapon on herself.
As the news crews packed up their things and left, Corbin—who was a chemical engineer—saw an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up. “Then I said, ‘What the heck. I’ll see if I can help them out,’ and eventually I bought the newspaper,” says Corbin. His only experience with journalism was as a paper boy in his youth.
According to Corbin, The Leader has been thriving in an era that is delicate for print newspapers, with the rise of internet and television news.
The Leader now delivers to about 5,000 of the more than 10,000 households in Westfield, and covers the local news area of Westfield, Scotch Plains, Cranford, Mountainside and Garwood. The paper turns a profit to pay 10 full-time and 20-30 part-time employees.
“Since 1890, we’re the strongest we have ever been. We have no debt, [more] cash, more paid subscribers, bigger distribution,” says Corbin.
Now 126 years in, The Leader keeps plugging along, meeting on yet another Thursday afternoon, to plan its next edition.