As the spread of Covid-19 went global, many of us experienced and embraced our local communities like never before. Without travel, school, work and the usual fast-paced day-to-day hum of life, we looked to our neighbors, small businesses and those immediately around us, for comfort, stability and strength. Which, not surprisingly, has made local journalism feel so much more important right now. So as our team began obsessively combing local content to understand what’s happening, we sought out Pam Frederick, the publisher/owner/editor of the Tribeca Citizen, for her take on the world today.
An Early Champion of Community News
Pam Frederick is a former reporter/editor and journalism educator who was an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Hunter College. But it was her early experience at a community newspaper that shaped her view of the field. Pam’s first job out of graduate school was at the Bronx, NY-based Riverdale Press. The paper, run by Bernard ‘Buddy‘ and Richie Stein, set the standard for the medium. Buddy won a Pulitzer prize for editorial writing; which was one of only nine Pulitzers ever granted to a community newspaper. The brothers were also known for their courage in continuing to publish following the 1989 firebombing of The Riverdale Press office in retaliation for an editorial defending the novelist Salman Rushdie. For this, they were awarded the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.
So it was no surprise to those who know Pam that she would jump at the opportunity to take the helm of a newspaper covering the community she’s lived in for 15 years. The website already had a robust following as a go-to about the happenings in our Tribeca community. And it perfectly married all of Pam’s interests and skills. So in January 2019 she took command and never looked back. Today she reflects on the past 18+ months and the way our world, and local communities, have been turned upside down. And the impact on community news.
A Chat with a Local Leader: Pam Frederick, Editor/Owner, Tribeca Citizen
You took ownership of a long-standing, much-loved community online newspaper in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan in January 2019. Why did you decide to do this?
I had been teaching journalism as an adjunct professor at two institutions I loved: Columbia Journalism School and Hunter College. But a full-time post evaded me. I did not have the professional experience I needed to get the job. My model for nearly 20 years had been: raise kids and teach part-time. Even though I was teaching close to a full load and getting excellent reviews from students and supervisors, deans want you to demonstrate professional chops more than teaching chops. I’d probably be a good hire now! But now I don’t want the job.
So I was very casually trolling for my next move when the owner of the Tribeca Citizen wrote in a post that the site was for sale. It was a very obvious fit, for both of us really. He wanted someone who would take care of his baby; I really admired the model he had created and thought I could emulate it. There wasn’t much I wanted to change. Also, I do a lot of community stuff so already knew many of the players in the ‘hood; plus I was already running two news sites as part of my classes, so I could operate the site from the technical side without too much of a learning curve. I sent him an email in early December and within a month we had signed the deal.
You’ve seen your neighborhood change and evolve as a 16+ year resident; how has Tribeca evolved?
The Tribeca of today was already emerging when I moved here; it’s the folks 10+ years older than me that saw the real transformation. My building converted in ’78 and we still have a lot of original owners. They have some stories! But still. When I arrived, two of the biggest residential towers in the neighborhood were still parking lots, so that change of course made an impact by bringing in a lot more families.
When I toured PS 234 with my oldest, who is now 20, they were still taking variances from other neighborhoods. Within a couple years the school was overcrowded and local parents were lobbying the city to create more schools. There’s no doubt that Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond contributed to the closing of several smaller stores, like Bell Bates health food store and Tribeca Hardware. But the folks who live above those stores certainly contribute a lot more foot traffic and spending dollars to keep so many other businesses healthy as well.
Of course, your 18+ months of running the Tribeca Citizen was probably much more newsworthy than you could have ever imagined…how has Covid-19 impacted you and the site?
Well, had you told me I would be covering a global pandemic and protests for racial justice here in Tribeca. When the city first shut down in March my first thought was, “I will have no news to write about.” Hardly. There has been no end of the news: schools closing; stores closing; neighborhood stalwarts dying from the virus; protests daily on our streets; curfews; rioting; the occupation of City Hall; and so on. And then when some of the virus news subsided, there was the reopening in tandem with the permanent closings.
Sometime soon I have to take stock and do a tally. My own business has of course suffered. Much of my advertising dollars come from real estate, and they were completely shut down for months. And since the neighborhood is largely out of town still, it is slow to get back up to speed. But because I work from home (and always did) and I have no staff, I only had myself to worry about.
Have you found the Tribeca Citizen readership expanding beyond Tribeca?
I don’t why anyone would want to read the Tribeca Citizen if they don’t live here or work here! I sure wouldn’t. But I know there are former Tribecans who like to keep tabs on the neighborhood. And I did make a pen pal out of a newspaper publisher from Toronto who used the site when she stayed here with her husband for a couple weeks on vacation. That was super flattering! Of course my mother-in-law in Philly is one of my more devoted readers.
What’s next for the Tribeca Citizen?
I’ll chug along like this for a while, though I do hope to use this (sort of quiet) time to make some technical improvements for my benefit and that of the reader. I may or may not have a tweak in the business model up my sleeve, but I don’t want to say something and jinx it. We all need some time to get our footing after this pandemic — or find a new normal. The site should be able to weather that transition well.