For local journalists Matthew Albasi and Max Pulcini, seeing their work on a newspaper means something.
The reaction from a comic artist is one the motivators that pushes the two Temple journalism alumni to keep print media alive.
After successfully buying and rebranding The Spirit of the Riverwards, the newspaper covering the Riverwards area, they, along with CEO Ashley O’Connor, are expanding to start another newspaper of the same nature, covering Brewerytown, Fairmount, Francisville, Spring Garden, Strawberry Mansion, North Central, Ludlow and Poplar.
“Despite being published hundreds of times online, it wasn’t until he saw it on paper on somebody else’s desk that he realized it was real,” Albasi said of their comic artist.
A Kickstarter for The Spirit of Penn’s Garden, which releases its first issue Thursday, surpassed its goal of $15,000 last month. While some may consider the team’s expansion after about a year of work a surprise, Albasi said it’s always been a part of the plan.
“When we started pitching this idea, it was never just one paper,” Albasi said.
The Kickstarter’s success, the pace at which Riverwards has grown and the recent local media attention all seem to paint a different picture for the notion of print media ‘dying.’ Albasi said it “might not be as true as everyone said that it was.”
The Spirit’s approach to ‘hyperlocal’ reporting is a big factor of what the newspaper stands for, Albasi said. With their motto, “Hyperlocal, Done Differently,” featured on the front of each rebranded paper and their redesigned website, it’s the community engagement and reporting that matter to the team.
The Spirit only covers its specified neighborhoods, which in the Riverwards includes Fishtown, Bridesburg, Harrowgate, Kensington, Northern Liberties and Port Richmond. The paper also makes it a habit to recruit reporters who are actually living in these areas, in order to have the most effect locally. As long as they are transparent about that objectivity with each reporter, Albasi and Pulcini are satisfied with the results.
“If you get the best journalists in the world and you plop them down in the middle of a block that he doesn’t know, he can probably make something happen but he’s not going to do it nearly as well or with as much passion as the dude who actually lives on the block and has to deal with that situation every day,” Albasi said.
O’Connor, who was brought on to the team full time in January 2015 to handle bookkeeping, doesn’t have a journalism background, but she understands the impact a locally focused newspaper can have. Even without journalism experience, her time with the Spirit has taught her to keep her eyes and ears open for any potential stories to cover.
“It’s not necessarily the most difficult thing to find a news story but to understand the people that are reading it … it’s one thing just to put out a newspaper but it’s another thing to really be in a position to actually be able to make a difference,” O’Connor said.
Albasi’s time starting up a newspaper and doing hyperlocal reporting has given him new insight into what a “nose for news” essentially means. It was his time with Philadelphia Neighborhoods at Temple, which at the time was taught by professors Chris Harper and Linn Washington, where he learned how to sniff out a story.
“I really learned it through Philadelphia Neighborhoods which was, ‘Hey there’s a story if you walk out your front door and you look left and right, and you just have to ask the right questions,’” he said. “The idea of hyperlocal then shaped to mean sort of finding those stories that are your next door neighbor’s.”
As they now bring this approach to cover Temple’s neighborhood along with others, Albasi and O’Connor hope to have that same impact and effectiveness in interacting with the community and having a conversation about what they are doing. They also plan to get students and professors involved with Penn’s Garden in any way possible, so they can change people’s perceptions about print media and news in general.
“For those who do want to be involved, who do want to be able to have some effect on their surroundings, I think that the news gives them the education that they need to discuss it and I think it gives them the platform,” Albasi said.
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org