The Observer turns 130 …

KEARNY — Because not all editions of The Observer can be found in the library or in our own archives, no one is exactly sure this number is correct. But if there were a newspaper printed every week leading up to today’s edition, we welcome you to the 6,760th edition of The Observer newspaper.

Today, May 10, 2017, we mark the 130th anniversary of the first publication of the newspaper – May 14, 1887.

What started out as an experiment in delivering the news to the people of Arlington has evolved into coverage in three counties and eight surrounding towns: Kearny, Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley.

When the newspaper first launched in 1887, the publication was a single-page news broadsheet, filled with stories about the town and its residents.

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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. A single copy — 3¢.

Some stories described businesses (they may be early concepts of “ads”) 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.Today, by contrast, the town has seven public schools, one charter school, 25+ churches and boasts a population of about 40,000.

By 1900, nearly 2,000 Scots immigrated to work in Kearny, Harrison and Newark facilities. Flows of Swedish, Lithuanian, Jewish, Portuguese and Japanese immigrants soon followed, according to a book written some time ago on Kearny’s rich immigrant history.

By the 1940s, the Town of Kearny thrived on its commercial and retail businesses — many which were located in South Kearny, or Industrial Kearny.

As the town’s population grew thicker over the years, so did the pages of this newspaper. Issues about businesses, taxes and resident concerns plastered the weekly editions.

While long-established warehouses along the Belleville Turnpike are still operating, new and smaller businesses, bars, bakeries and gift shops moved into the area.

Kearny has still maintained the safety and sense of community it was known for in the newspaper’s early years.

At one point, Lynn Chevrolet was one of the newspaper’s longest-standing advertisers, and they had many ads in the newspaper throughout the 1950s. Their hand-drawn, simple Arial-style fonts used in the ads ultimately changed to flashy display computer graphics.

Substantial changes to the newspaper

The Observer itself went from being a broadsheet newspaper for ages to a tabloid nearly 15 years ago. When it became a tab, it was one of the first weekly broadsheet newspapers to make the switch (during a time when many newspaper publishers were at least considering changes.)

The change was made primarily because of the rising cost of newsprint and printing.

Printing in a tabloid format allowed for using less paper, and it made reading the paper much less cumbersome, especially for commuters who often read the newspaper on trains and buses.

It was the vision of late Observer President Anthony Tortoreti that led to this major change.

And it wasn’t the first radical change Tortoreti made.

A few years earlier, The Observer added sporadic color to jazz up the previously grey pages — this gave 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, and that many other weekly newspapers mimicked afterward.

Mary Tortoreti, Anthony’s widow, who died in December 2016, was The Observer’s president for 14 years. Ten years ago, when the newspaper celebrated its 120th anniversary, she took time to fondly recall how her husband and she would discuss the changes together — while at home, or while they were on the road traveling (usually to Cape Cod, Mass.)

“He was the only one doing it, and of course, he wanted the color to be perfect,” Mrs. Tortoreti in 2007 said. “He made sure everyone worked on it until we got it right.”

There were two other areas where Mr. Tortoreti was somewhat of a visionary.

First, he wanted readers and advertisers to have the best-looking newspaper. So, when it was hardly common for newspapers to be paginated and designed using computers, Mr. Tortoreti went out and bought top-of-the-line Compugraphic computers. While the investment was costly, 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.”

Next, and perhaps most importantly, in the early 1990s, when the World Wide Web became widely available to the general public, Mr. Tortoreti had the foresight to purchase the Web domain

While there are countless newspapers in the world called The Observer, he sensed that newspapers would have a future on the Web — and he was able to grab one of the most attractive domain names for the newspaper out there.

Were there another “Observer” newspaper that wanted to buy The Observer’s domain, chances are it could sell for a considerable amount of money. In fact, the world’s largest “Observer” newspaper, is in the United Kingdom – and often, we receive email, letters and more intended for the European newspaper.

Still, it was that vision Mr. Tortoreti had that allowed The Observer to not only have its presence felt locally, but worldwide.

Today, the newspaper averages around 500,000 non-unique hits a month — or, about 30,000 unique visitors a month — from around the globe. The newspaper’s Web presence has allowed people who have moved away from the area to keep in touch with the goings-on of our readership area.

But before the newspaper was available online, Mrs. Tortoreti had said people all over the country had subscriptions to The Observer to keep up with their former home. Those subscriptions are still popular today — and are available, yearly or for six months — at a nominal cost. In fact, subscriptions to the newspaper are popular birthday and holiday gifts for people who have moved from the area.

Meanwhile, in June 2002, after Mr. Tortoreti died, his daughter, Lisa, took over the paper as its publisher, and Robert Pezzolla became general manager. Their leadership helped transform the newspaper, and under their leadership, The Observer grew exponentially in readership and in sales.

“I was taught the old-school way of things working side-by-side with my father. When I first started here, we did a lot manually,” Lisa said. “Back then, sometimes, at night, we’d go home, and we’d find pieces of paste-up ads or text on our shoes, and we knew something had happened.

“But now, with the use of computers, we have had so many opportunities to improve the newspaper, and we’ve had the chance to really demonstrate our creativity. We also have access to so much technology that we didn’t have before — and we all benefit from that.”

Lisa recalls how when she first took over, there were days she and the staff would be in the office long hours on production day. But now, with her vision becoming a reality — it’s a lot easier to put together a newspaper on computers — and production days, that once lasted 12 hours or more, are now generally the same length as any other day of the week in the office.

“What a difference technology has made,” she said. “We are very lucky.”

The last decade

Over the last 10 years, even more changes came to The Observer.

The biggest was a move from the old office at 531 Kearny Ave. to 39 Seeley Ave. The new office offers staff a much wider working space. But just as in the old office, residents are still invited to pop into the office whether it’s to pick up a copy of the week’s newspaper, older issues, to simply say “hello” or, most importantly, to place a classified or display ad in person.

The Observer has also been very fortunate to have had a strong continuity — and minimal turnover — on its editorial staff. Sports reporter Jim Hague has been with The Observer for more than 15 years and he continues to tirelessly cover local sports as no one else could or has for that matter.

Ron Leir, who retired from The Jersey Journal in 2009, has been with The Observer since then — and his byline continues to be featured throughout each week’s issue. Karen Zautyk, with The Observer on and off since 2009, continues to covert the Kearny Police Department and other items of importance. In fact, we continue to hear from many readers who tell us the first thing they look for each week when they open up The Observer is her KDP Blotter, which often includes Karen’s infused humor. Kevin Canessa, editor of this newspaper from 2006 to 2008, also returned to The Observer in early 2016 after spending the four years prior as a freelance journalist and webmaster.

Lastly, several years ago, The Observer introduced to its readership an e-Edition. This feature allows anyone — anywhere in the world — to view an electronic edition of The Observer exactly as the newspaper looks in print. And, thanks to significant upgrades to the newspaper’s website, the e-Edition can be viewed on a desktop, laptop, mobile phone or tablet — as can the rest of the website.

Some 130 years ago, The Arlington Observer all started as an experiment. That experiment has lasted through two World Wars, several other wars, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and to this very day, is still standing strong. Yet it would not have survived this long were it not for the dedicated readers and advertisers who make this community staple possible.

We thank you for your dedicated readership and advertising.

Here’s to another 130 years — and more!

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.