By Kevin Canessa Jr.
Because not all editions of The Observer can be found in the library or even in our own archives, no one is exactly sure this number is correct: But if there was a newspaper printed every week leading up to today’s edition, today marks the 6,560th print-edition of The Observer newspaper.
And next week will signal the unofficial start of the 127th year of The Observer as well.
What started out as an experiment in delivering the news to the people of Arlington has evolved into coverage in three counties and eight towns: Kearny, Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley.
When the newspaper launched in 1887, it was a single- page broadsheet, packed with stories about the town and its residents. Bylines were not published with stories, and the “journalists” wrote mostly about Arlington, the section of Kearny along the Greenwood Lake Branch of the Erie Railroad, which gave the newspaper its first name — The Arlington Observer.
The cost for an annual subscription was $1.50.
Some stories in that first edition described businesses and institutions of the time, such as the town’s five churches, one public school, shipyards and manufacturing companies that framed the hub of the area. It also noted the town’s population of 1,600 in the late 1880s. Things certainly evolved in Kearny.
By 1900, about 2,000 Scots had immigrated to work in Kearny, Harrison and Newark. Swedish, Lithuanian, Jewish, Portuguese and Japanese immigrants soon followed, according to a book on Kearny’s immigrant history.
By the 1940s, Kearny thrived on its commercial and retail businesses — many located in South Kearny, or what some liked to call “Industrial Kearny.” As the town’s population grew, so did the pages of the newspaper. Issues about businesses, taxes and resident concerns filled the weekly editions.
While long-established companies along the Belleville Turnpike were still operating, new small businesses, bars, bakeries and shops moved into the area. And significant redevelopment was about to kick off along the Passaic Ave. corridor.
Big changes to the paper
The Observer itself went from being a broadsheet to a tabloid a little more than a decade ago. When it became a tab, it was one of the first newspapers to make the switch (during a time when many publishers were at least considering such changes).
The move was made primarily because of the rising cost of newsprint and printing. A tabloid format used less paper, plus it made reading the paper much less cumbersome.
It was the vision of late Observer President Anthony Tortoreti that led to the major change.
And it wasn’t the first radical move he’d made.
A few years earlier, The Observer added sporadic color to jazz up the pages — and to give advertisers an opportunity to attract more business. While the use of color was costly, it was something Tortoreti knew was necessary — and it was a trend he helped to set in the industry.
Mary Tortoreti, Anthony’s widow, is The Observer’s president today — and back in 2007, she fondly recalled how she and her husband would discuss the changes together — while at home or while they were on the road traveling (usually to Cape Cod.)
“He was the only one doing it [using color], and of course, he wanted the color to be perfect,” Mrs. Tortoreti said. “He made sure everyone worked on it until we got it right.”
Technology, technology, technology
There were two other areas where Anthony Tortoreti was a newspaper visionary.
First, he wanted readers and advertisers to have the best-looking newspaper. So, when it was hardly common for papers to be paginated and designed using computers, he went out and bought what was then the top-of-the-line Compugraphic computers. The investment was costly, but it cut considerable time in the overall production process.
“Tony and I would talk about the computers all the time,” Mrs. Tortoreti said. “We’d be going all day before the computers. We’d get to the office at 5 a.m., and some nights, we wouldn’t get out of there until 8, 8:30. With the typesetting and all, it took so much time. So the computers seemed natural.”
In 2007, when The Observer was celebrating its 120th anniversary, then-Advertising Manager Jack Marflak recalled what life was like before computers came into play.
“Paste up, the old system, was very time-consuming, compared to the technology of today,” Marflak said. “We always got it done, but it just took a lot longer and a lot more people.”
Next, and perhaps most importantly, in 1996, when the World Wide Web exploded onto the scene, Tortoreti had the foresight to purchase the Web domain www.theobserver.com. There are countless newspapers in the world called The Observer, and, sensing that newspapers would have a future on the Web, he was able to grab one of the best domain names for this publication.
Were there another newspaper that wanted to buy The Observer’s domain, it could sell for a considerable amount of cash today.
It was Tortoreti’s vision that allowed The Observer to have its presence felt, not only locally, but worldwide.
Today, the newspaper averages around 500,000 nonunique hits a month — and about 30,000 unique visitors a month — from around the globe. Traffic from the United Kingdom, Portugal and Brazil is often quite high.
New blood takes over
In June 2002, after Tortoreti died, his daughter, Lisa, took over as publisher Robert Pezzolla became general manager.. Pezzolla will mark his 12th year as general manager next month. His leadership helped transform the paper as The Observer grew exponentially in readership and in sales.
Online edition makes debut
Today, under Pezzolla’s leadership, readers can see the newspaper for free each week in an e-Edition — which is the exact newspaper as it appears in print, only on a computer screen.
Each week, more than 10,000 readers from across the globe read the publication on theobserver.com — and it has also allowed advertisers to significantly expand their reach to potential customers.
In addition, the online edition has opened up the possibility of having significantly more non-local advertisers — something few local weeklies can boast.
The commitment to advertisers remains as strong as ever. And because of that commitment, there are many businesses that have advertised with The Observer for countless years.
As for newly launched enterprises, Pezzolla says it’s critical for them to budget at least 10% of their start-up capital for advertising and publicity.
“Too many times over the years, I’ve seen so many great people start a business that folds after six months,” Pezzolla said. “What happens is they have great intentions, have a few customers, but don’t understand that, without getting the word out that they’re there, they’re likely not going to succeed. So I’d definitely say 10% of the kick-off capital has to be for advertising.”
He says The Observer’s weekly Business Directory, which appears in print and online, is a great way for companies with small budgets to get their message out there. “For as little as $35 a week, businesses can get into our directory,” he said. “The exposure is priceless, and could be the difference in whether a new start-up succeeds.”
To advertise with The Observer, call 201-991-1600 or send an email to advertising@ theobserver.com.
For information about classified ads, call or send an email to classified@theobserver. com.
To submit news, send an email to editorial@ theobserver.com.