An Interview with Editor Hedy Campbell
Did you get yours? The Spring 2018 Block Association newsletter is hot off the press. If you want to jump the gun, you’ll find a copy here.
I’ve lived in the catchment going on half of forever. And still that evening when I put my key to the hole and push open my door to discover the crisp quarterly lying in wait, I drop everything to read it on the spot. Old faithful.
If you are a Block Association member, have you ever wondered how this sweet read wends its way to you? It took me a long time to learn that Ken Henwood was the delivery man for my building, and he’s virtually my next-door neighbor. So, let’s ballpark it at 80 times that Ken has crouched in front of my apartment and glided the quarterly under my door. I am aghast that I’ve never actually thanked him for doing this! (Ken, thank you!)
If you live in the catchment, you, too, probably have a courier ferrying “old faithful” to your door or building entryway. And you, too, probably dig in as soon as you get it.
We’re coming up on the newsletter’s 47th birthday. The first issue — entitled “Neighborhood News” — rolled off a typewriter on May 20, 1971, thanks to original editor and publisher Richard De Thuin who, sadly, passed away recently. You can read that whole issue right here.
More or less, the newsletter has been chugging along ever since. So here now is a chance to consider the 102-103 Streets Block Association Newsletter and what happens behind the scenes to get it to your door.
About eight years ago, the West End Historic Preservation’s effort to landmark the avenue inspired her to think about the people who live in those buildings and the stories they could tell. This led to the launch of the Block Association’s Residents of Long Standing Hall of Fame with 27 inductees and counting — a great feat that we owe to Hedy’s ingenuity and her appreciation for neighborhood and neighbors.
She’s also inadvertently responsible for this blog. Hedy gingerly approached me to manage and update the website when the prior webmaster stepped down. My first response was that I couldn’t imagine taking on more work given my time commitment to BAiP. But how could I say no to her (anyone else ever had that reaction?). That was four years and nearly 300 posts ago!
The hat Hedy’s worn longest is newsletter editor. She took over the duties at the beginning of 1987, succeeding a long line of editors: Richard De Thuin, Mary Louise Taylor, Evelyn Brodwin, Marilyn Ehlers, Connie Fredericks, Ginger Lief and Kathy Giannou. Between 1987 and now, Hedy has had a couple of breaks when Jock Davenport and David Reich each did stints as editor. (My apologies to any past editors I’ve neglected to mention!).
I caught up with Hedy to ask about her 20+ years at the helm. What follows is our recent Q&A.
In the coming weeks, to honor the longevity of our newsletter I’ll be featuring all kinds of pieces “from the vault." Many of these archival pieces are thanks to Ginger Lief and Ken Henwood who've preserved the back catalog. I'm very grateful to both of them, and to Ginger in particular -- the human "wayback machine."
So, stick around since there's lots more memory lane to come! And if you are a fan of the newsletter, tell Hedy and her team in the comments below.
Q&A with Hedy Campbell, newsletter editor
Caitlin: To orient us, what roles have you held within the Block Association over the years?
Hedy: My board positions have been co-chair; chair; treasurer; recording secretary; newsletter editor and co-editor. I ran the Halloween parade for many years. And I’ve run caroling for many years. (Anthony Bellov used to run it but some years ago maxed out. He was happy to continue as the musical brains of the operation as long as somebody else did the organizational stuff.) And for more years than not, I’ve been in charge of yard sale refreshments.
Caitlin: Can you tell me a little about your history with the newsletter? I know it started in 1971 but tell me about when you entered the picture.
Hedy: For some years starting in 1987 it was just me and my typewriter and our goal was a monthly distribution, which was a goal I couldn’t consistently meet. I don’t remember when we decided to go quarterly, which actually made brilliant sense because we’ve always asked for dues quarterly. Alan Leverenz was the first designer I worked with. Jock Davenport took over from me as editor for some years. David Reich took it over from him, then I became co-editor with David, then I became editor again.
Caitlin: And here we are. Do you know how much people appreciate the fruits of your labor?
Hedy: Not really. We get occasional comments from readers, mainly written on the flaps of contribution envelopes.
Caitlin: Well believe me, we do. So, how does each issue actually magically appear under my door every three months?
Hedy: The issue gets submitted digitally to Best Copy — the Mom & Pop (or more precisely Pop & Son) copy shop on the northeast corner of 101st Street and Broadway. They print it, insert the loose sheet manually, and fold the print run. Block Association member Eliza Lansdale gets it from them. She counts out newsletters and envelopes and runs around the neighborhood delivering them to sub-distributors and building captains who then distribute them further. For instance, she gives a couple of hundred issues to a high-school student who lives in my building. That person subdivides the batch and delivers to the small buildings on West 102nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. The big buildings like the Broadmoor and the Master get batches delivered to their building captains.
Caitlin: Why a print newsletter in this day and age? Do you foresee a day when it will go electronic?
Hedy: In addition to disseminating information, the print newsletter is our vehicle for envelope distribution, which is still primarily how we receive membership contributions from residents. But residents should know that on our website, they can contribute by credit card any time.
Caitlin: In its slightly anachronistic way, I suspect that a paper copy makes people stop and really take the time to read the news and neighborhood vignettes. How much does it cost to produce?
Hedy: Each issue costs about $800. The contribution envelopes cost about $150. We print 2100 copies. And that’s attractive to our advertisers because I estimate that 2-3 people read each issue, so our reach is around 4000-5000 people. The ads generate income to defray the cost of publication, and thankfully we have all the ads we need. Jane Hopkins has done such a good job! In publishing, a 50:50 ratio of ads to articles is the approximate goal, and we’re roughly there.
Caitlin: OK, we've got the distribution but what about the content -- what's your process there?
Hedy: Four times a year, about six weeks in advance of publication, I send out an email to contributors in which the article lineup, assignments, and deadline are specified. That email is based both on what we historically print in a particular issue (such as the recurring annual events) as well as any current issues of importance (the gingko tree assault, for example). A group of faithful writers submit their articles, which are then lightly edited; this takes several hours, and I am grateful now to be working with Amy Edelman who has come out the gate very strong in this copy-editing role! Ads that Jane Hopkins collects and all the articles are sent to the designer, Bradley Spear, who then does a preliminary layout. I review the layout and provide feedback about placement and prioritization. Brad makes changes and returns revised layouts for review. With some luck, only minor tinkering remains. Some issues (like the last one of 2017) require more back and forth until the layout is set. Content is proofread, and corrections are provided to Brad who makes corrections and returns a final proof for review. Brad sends the graphic file to Best Copy for printing. And then we start the delivery process above.
Caitlin: What we in the community get out of the newsletter is intangible: first and foremost, its very existence fosters a sense of community. What do you get out of your involvement with the newsletter?
Hedy: I get to shape the content of what is the primary public face of the organization. I believe that the organization’s role in the community is an important one, and therefore making its functions and initiatives known to residents in a way that reflects our efforts accurately and positively is critical. Although there are many residents who are here and have been here for many years, there’s also a lot of turnover. Providing a sense of perspective, which I can do because I’ve been here a long time, is part of what we want to communicate.
Caitlin: It seems you’ve been looking to train someone to take over for quite a while. Do you think you’ll ever succeed, and if not will this 47-year-old institution of a newsletter vanish?
Hedy: It’s possible. There could come a time when I just have to say that’s it. But for as long as I have an associate who will take care of the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading, I’m happy to oversee it, keeping an eye on the issues of importance to the organization and assigning articles accordingly.
Caitlin: I know that Ginger Leif, a former editor from the earliest days, performed a colossal labor of love by archiving print issues going back to the very first issue (Thank you, Ginger!). These are now part of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s files at the Bloomingdale library branch. Have you ever looked at that collection and felt part of the long continuum of time – that we are all impermanent?
Hedy: I haven’t been over to see the archive. I have my personal collection, so I’m aware how fat the folder has grown. I do feel part of the continuum of the neighborhood, especially as I got to know Cherie Tredanari and Ted and Aysa Berger, who were founders of the organization. I feel as if I accepted a baton from them (Cherie ran Halloween, I took it over from her). And I’m concerned, as I know you are, that the next generation of baton recipients doesn’t seem to have identified itself. With the trend toward two working parents, there just isn’t as much time for volunteerism, and since there’s no pressing issue in the neighborhood for residents to rally around (such as crime or drug dealing, as there once was), I don’t think there’s a sense of urgency to get involved. Although I’m very aware that we’re all very temporary, I prefer to focus on what sort of imprint, if only a subtle one, I can leave while I’m here.
Caitlin: I keep thinking that connecting via technology has supplanted the need for hyperlocal community. But as technology becomes more and more dehumanizing, people will turn back to the local bricks and mortar community right under their noses. There’s so much benefit in it. That’s the lesson I learned from both the Block Association and BAiP. Which reminds me! Without the newsletter, BAiP would not have taken off as quickly as it did nine years ago. Because of their communications networks two block associations were able to get word out efficiently to all neighbors in five square blocks about BAiP’s creation. The infrastructure of the block associations and their newsletters jumpstarted BAiP. We need to put that on the balance sheet of under "newsletter successes."
Hedy: I couldn't agree more!
Caitlin: I think it’s pretty obvious that we share the love of living in Bloomingdale.
Hedy: Oh, yes, I’ve loved living here. It’s quiet without being isolated. We aren’t swarmed with foot traffic en route to an attraction or institution. People, if they’re inclined, get to know one another, whether because they do the alternate side shuffle, have children, walk a dog, or hang out at the diner. I used to say, especially when Oppenheimer and the Green Farm were here, that I could walk from my building to 96th Street to shop for Thanksgiving and return with everything I needed even though I’d left my wallet at home. I think it’s still pretty true, but maybe not as much.
Caitlin: A village.
That’s a good place to stop because I know that the Annual Meeting on March 22 will focus on the street-level retail crisis. It sure would be nice if every landlord would make a good faith effort to have the shops on our streets occupied by commercial tenants and usher back in the law of supply and demand, and perhaps a new era of local retail. Thank goodness for the shops we still have -- and for their support of the newsletter. And thank you and your team for bringing it to us four times a year. There's plainly a great amount of volunteer sweat equity and TLC involved.