The relationship we want with the entire community is one of trust. We refuse to be dependent on the exploitation of the star system for our survival. We believe not only in information but also in communication that is information with feedback between equals. We realize trust has to be earned, and we are willing to spend the time required to develop a trust relationship with the community. We wouldn’t have it any other way…
— Woodstock Times Editorial,
by Geddy Sveikauskas,
Volume 1, No. 1,
February 7, 1972;
Price 15 cents.
And so, it has come to this — 50 years of local journalism. It’s been quite a journey, yet those editorial aims hold up. We began as a fledgling 16 pager called Woodstock Times. For the first couple of months it came out every other week, but quickly evolved into its weekly self. As the decades went on, Woodstock Times was joined by the Huguenot Herald, which morphed into New Paltz Times; along came Almanac, our arts and entertainment weekly, and then Saugerties Times followed by Kingston Times. Somewhere in the line of succession there were short lived papers in Marlboro and Highland. There was even a long forgotten weekly in Key West, Florida.
The venture, which has been run every day since that very first glimmer of print by Geddy Sveikauskas (you can just call him Geddy) had turned into a company, Ulster Publishing.
Like many of the small newspaper publishers in the country (and the world) Ulster Publishing was rocked by the COVID pandemic, which knocked the bottom out of local advertising.
Retrenching, the company consolidated the four weeklies, plus Almanac into Hudson Valley One, which covers the entire area in a print edition and a digital footprint. There have been some tenuous times, but we’re still here.
In the beginning…
“Both my parents did the paper every single week, every moment of our life was about the paper,” says Genia Wickwire, 46, Geddy’s daughter, who is now the Associate Publisher. “So I really don’t know what life is like outside of that because it was just all-consuming. You couldn’t have an event or a holiday, or you couldn’t have a celebration without worrying about how the paper was going to get done that week and who was going to do it.
“My birth story is that they finished laying out the paper and one person ran to the printers to drop it off while my mom headed to the hospital. Literally, every event in my life is surrounded by deadlines and how to get the paper out and what was happening in town that week.
“I remember being little and crawling around the floor and there were all these little pieces of paper because everything was cut and paste. Just giant piles of paper, and everybody would be lining up all the copy so everything would be straight. I remember just the activity around it…Jenny and I, our play as a kid would be to create little newspapers because we would see them lay it out, so we would write out our own little kids stories… And in the end, 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning we would get into the car, and fall back to sleep while we drove to the printer at Southern Dutchess, mostly in the middle of the night…”
Geddy: The first issue of Woodstock Times — I remember it very distinctly. We decided we wanted to write about something that was an urgent need for the town and something we should all think about and, lo and behold, at that time it was the need for a sewer system, because Tannery Brook was being fucked up by a large amount of biologically undesirable things. That described the front page. Also I wanted a newspaper for all the people of Woodstock and if all the people in Woodstock have one thing in common, they all shit together…
It started with Cy Gottleib, who owned the paper for the first few months and there was Sean O’Brien. He wanted it to be a little more like the New York Post, and I wanted a newspaper for the whole population. It turned out that nobody wanted to work with O’Brien and they all wanted to work with me. I had been keeping track of the work that everybody had been doing, thinking that they would be owners of the paper to a degree, but none of them seemed interested in it, they just wanted me to do it.
I bought it from him (Gottleib) for the money he had put in, which I think was $8560. And I arranged for a schedule of payments for him and took that schedule of payments and tacked it up to my kitchen wall, so I would know when it was due. So I paid him exactly what he had put into the paper so far. It took probably about a year and a half.
Genia: I went away to high school and college so I wasn’t involved then. By then we were in this building (322 Wall Street, Kingston), so I came back and did the classifieds on the first floor and by then we had Almanac and New Paltz Times…maybe at that point one of the other papers was inside the Woodstock Times for a while.
For me, growing up, (Woodstock Times) was a very singular paper. I do have memories of when he bought the New Paltz Times and I would go to the bakery and stuff. I remember going to New Paltz and having a new town to explore, so I do have some memories of that…
New Paltz Times…
(Deb Alexsa is the editor of Hudson Valley One. She previously was editor of New Paltz Times and has worked for the papers for 38 years…)
Deb Alexsa: I started with Ulster Publishing in 1983 in an office that is now the Ignite Fitness gym in the Cherry Hill Plaza. The Huguenot Herald, The Herald and New Paltz Times has had offices all over town, including in the old Sanctuary bar off Main Street, on Water Street, in the building that is now home to Lagusta’s Luscious chocolates on Front Street, on Church Street, behind the former Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center off Main Street uptown and on South Chestnut Street. Covid forced us to shut down our New Paltz office in 2020.
I started working for the Huguenot Herald as a typesetter using a varityper — a word processor of the pre-digital age. Every letter, press release, column and news story had to be typeset and the production process was very time consuming. We used hot waxing machines to wax the typesetting paper ready to cut and paste into columns and border tape cut with exacto knives to make boxes or border a photo. Every photo, clip art and logo had to be sized to fit (with the reduction wheel), waxed and cut and pasted onto the page flat. It was really a fascinating process if you followed the production of the weekly newspaper from start to delivery to the newsstand or your door. It was a huge business in those days before the internet. Newspapers were our main source of news, advertising and information.
In the early 2000’s, former New Paltz Times and Almanac editor Julie O’Connor took me under her wing and encouraged me to start writing. I began covering the New Paltz School District during the time when Alan Derry was the superintendent. Community residents were not happy with his management style and said that he put too much focus on testing. He definitely divided the community. That beat definitely taught me how to ignore verbal attacks and to accept constructive criticism from others.
Following my stint as a writer, Julie started sharing some of her editorial responsibilities with me and she eventually handed me the news section. My biggest concern was not being able to come up with story ideas. But, hey, we’re talking New Paltz. While government officials currently have a good working relationship, that certainly wasn’t always the case. Think Susan Zimet, Jeff Logan, Don Wilen, Guy Kempe and Jason West. These players fueled the fire for interesting articles.
Two of the biggest stories I remember covering include Jason West performing marriage ceremonies for 25 same-sex couples in 2004, before gay marriage was legal in New York. Numerous legal battles ensued, and the event went down in history. And in 2001, Jared Bozydaj went on an hour-plus shooting spree that terrorized the New Paltz community, left a sheriff’s deputy wounded and caused damage to people’s homes and businesses. Bozydaj was sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison, and he currently is incarcerated at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Dutchess County. One of the businesses Bozydaj shot at was the New Paltz Times office on Church Street. A bullet went through our office window and shade and was lodged in the back wall of our office. I still have that shade in my garage…
Some of the other important stories have to be development stories. As Erin Quinn wrote in 2018: Grassroots activism has changed the way New Paltz and its surrounding townships look — not so much in what you see, but in what you don’t see — commercial and residential sprawl, elimination of woods, wetlands and the vast array of animals, birds and plant life that rely on those delicate ecosystems to thrive. For the past four decades, local groups like the Association for Intelligent Rural Management (AFFIRM), Save Our Community (SOC), Save the Woods and Wetlands (SWW), Stop Crossroads and more have banded together to wage campaigns against what they considered to be irresponsible development, including two megamall proposals with Wal-Mart as their anchor store, industrial buildings that bordered or intruded on wetlands and various commercial/residential projects that were expected to lead to increased traffic, blight, loss of locally owned businesses and a myriad of negative environmental impacts. The viewsheds that many enjoy now — like the 100-acre Jewett Farm preserved forever off Huguenot Street, or the sweeping vista of the Shawangunk Ridge foothills off Butterville Road, or the now-town-owned rail trail, a heavily trafficked linear park used by walkers, cyclists, runners and horseback riders — would be obscured by sprawl, had these groups not fought for their preservation.
Names: (a partial list of those who have contributed to the papers, including many who still do)
Julie O’Connor, Sue Pilla, Mik Horowitz, Bob Berman, Lee Reich, Alan Carey, Dion Ogust, Howie Greenberg, Parry Teasdale, Marguerite Culp, Spider and Anita Barbour, Bruce Ackerman, Michael Esposito, Tobi Watson, Carole Wickwire, Carol Wandrey, Eddi Henderson, Erin Quinn, Susan Slotnick, Frances Marion Platt, Lynn Coraza, Elizabeth Jackson, Linda Saccoman, Dan Barton, Hugh Reynolds, Jesse J. Smith, Violet Snow, Paul Smart, Dominic Labate, Donna Keefe, Dee Giordano, Leslie Gerber, Geoffrey Bright Buckley, Tad Wise, Ralph Longendyke, George Pattison, Josh Gilligan, Joe Morgan, Zac Shaw, Jim Gordon, Nick Henderson, Bob Margolis…
(Brian Hollander was editor of Woodstock Times for 19 years, from 2001 until 2020. He is now contributing editor to Hudson Valley One, though he’s not sure exactly what that means)
Brian Hollander: “Just make it as good a paper as you can…” That was the sole directive I received from Geddy when he hired me to be editor of Woodstock Times in 2001. It was as simple as that, and for a guy who had only been in journalism for about six years at that point (and was not loving it, to put it bluntly) it was sweet music to my ears.
I was in a unique position because I had spent four years as supervisor of the Town of Woodstock in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As such, I was constantly covered by Woodstock Times, sometimes in less than flattering terms. Now I could be the one wielding the damning prose, if necessary.
Woodstock had (and still has) some epic battles that kept things lively during my tenure. We fought over where to put a new highway garage, over an easement on 76 pristine acres owned by the town; another intense conflict was fought over an affordable housing project that ultimately was built to the town’s benefit mostly, but the denouement took ten years to reach; the lights on Overlook’s TV tower, the Sheraton proposal for Woodstock Estates, selling square inches of the town to pay for the sewer debt, and the somehow still not resolved two decade conflict over Dean Gitter’s resort project. During my time as editor, 9/11 happened and we got to interview a man who walked down 82 floors while helping others do so, too. We interviewed him again ten years later and once more last year at the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
During my 19 years, I must have written 750 or more editorials. Guess I had my say. In an editorial signifying Woodstock Times’ 40th anniversary a decade ago, what I said still stands:
It’s still fascinating to see the way life goes around here; there’s still curiosity about the people we live with and among, and we’re still enjoying chronicling our times. Sure, we struggle with the ideal of journalism, marveling in its perfection, ecstatic when we manage to live up to it, sighing when we fall short but aware always of its true demands…’
More Names: Sue Rogers, Andrea Barrist Stern, Todd Paul, Diane Congello-Brandes, Ann Hutton, Susan Piperato, Lorna Tychostup, Jill Lipoff, Crispin Kott, Pam Courselle, Angela Latrell, Lauren Thomas, Terence P Ward, Lynn Woods, John Burdick, Carol Johnson, David Gordon, Karin Evans, Sigrid Heath, Gary Alexander, Dakota Lane, Carol Zaloom, Renee Samuels, Kenneth Wapner, Syd M., Tad Wise, Rich Brandes, Rich Corozine, Mark Sherman, Dorothy Ross, Phyllis McCabe, Will Dendis, Dale Geffner, Jeremiah Horrigan, George Crane, Rene Houtrides, Michael Perkins, Ben Caswell, Beth Blis, Peter Blum, Bonnie Dixon, Sharyn Flanagan, Amy Murphy, Rick Holland, Steve Ruelke, Brian Anglin, Tinker Twine, Arthur Zaczkiewicz, Mala Hoffman, Jenny Bella, Lisa Childers, Mike Townsend, Rokosz Most, Claudia Ansorge, Shannah White, Ray White…
Hudson Valley One…
Geddy: I always think of looking forward, because that’s all we have…the future. We don’t have the past anymore. Whether that’s in a personal sense or an institutional sense…
Deb Alexsa: The transition to Hudson Valley One in 2020 was brutal — both emotionally and physically. But many thanks to our faithful readers and subscribers who stuck with us as we figured out how to become Hudson Valley One. That year, after almost 50 years of continuous publication, our publisher, Geddy Sveikauskas, had to lay off considerably more than half of his staff. He asked our readers to tolerate the disruption and support us financially if they could. “The response was both heartwarming and overwhelming,” he wrote in an editorial after the transition. Hundreds of people sent us gifts of money or signed up for subscriptions. Some readers said they preferred the expanded online publication. A sizeable number of others were inconsolable, asking only when they were going to get their own local papers back. “We told them we didn’t know, but would tell them when we did,” Geddy wrote.
Now we know. Ulster Publishing will continue to evolve as “one,” covering Woodstock, New Paltz, Saugerties, Kingston and beyond through a print and online edition. The print piece is always going to be an important part of Ulster Publishing, but the opportunity is the mobile device, so we have embraced a combined print-digital future.
Genia: When I was really little there was just the one paper so it was very Woodstock oriented. When I came back there was this huge thing, with Almanac. Now it’s sort of like we’ve gone back to the one paper format.
When Hudson Valley One hit, as soon as my Dad realized he could be writing the same stories and covering the same people he was like, OK, I’m OK with this. At first it was like Ohhhh, that moment of the pandemic when everything was shut down…and then just knowing that he could do what he’s always done was sort of like the light. So that was the transition, all the ebbs and flows…
Geddy: (Asked about stories through the years…) I remember as few as possible. I’m more concerned with what the front page is going to be next week…
(Asked about having his daughter Genia as Associate Publisher…) I feel terrific about it. She has a very different head than I have. She’s done practically everything. And particularly she has the complete allegiance of the sales people, and a reasonably good business head. And she really wants the news to be in the paper, she wants quality news and she’s always talking about having long form journalism and investigative stuff, on the cusp of our ability to pay. And we are trying to come up with a meld of the different needs that works in the digital age. It was very sudden when the pandemic came and it became very clear that local advertising dried up and we had no choice but to first of all, go digital and secondly we came back with one newspaper rather than four, five if you include Almanac. She was skeptical in the beginning but she’s become a believer that it was the right thing to do. Necessity is the mother of invention…
(Any words for readers on the 50th anniversary?)
God bless us all, as Tiny Tim said. Each and every one.