WIRE at Year 35 as Both Observer and Agent of Change

Written by Briana Warsing. Posted in Volume 35, Issue 1 - September 13, 2014

The Main Street WIRE has started its 35th year...

Roosevelt Island internist Dr. Jack Resnick started this paper back in the early 1980s because of a lengthy Tram outage that was insufficiently covered by other New York City media.  Residents were having difficulty traveling on and off the Island in those pre-subway days, and were seeking specific transit information but couldn’t  get it.  Resnick founded the paper, serving as publisher and managing editor for The WIRE’s first 12 years or so, to provide local news and to advocate for the Roosevelt Island community.

Reminiscing in his office on Main Street, he recalls, “A scheduled four-month shutdown and [then the Tram] didn’t come back.  A bunch of people were over for dinner one night, saying, God, I wish we had a newspaper, no one knows what’s going on.  You can’t find out what’s going on, and I said, I used to do this.  I edited my college paper and high school paper.  I always did journalism.  Let’s do one.  By coincidence, a lot of our friends were writers of one sort or another, including Clare Walker, a Brit, who had been a managing editor in a real London paper.  I said, Look, let’s set up a group of people to do this.  We hung up some signs, and 20 or 30 people showed up for a meeting.  After, I said, This really looks good, but, you know, we need to make sure we’re going to have people for the long haul, so let’s have another meeting – and more people showed up for the next one.  We said, All right, let’s do it.

Resnick says, “Through the years, we impacted a lot.  There wouldn’t be a Tram today.  Several times through those first 20 years, the Tram would be gone.  It speaks to the shortsightedness of bureaucracy.  It would have been such an economic mistake.  Any city planner would say, You’re planning to take this thing down?  You’re planning to triple the population but you want to get rid of the Tram?  It was a big fight.  We played a big role in mobilizing the community.  There are a lot of pieces of this community that wouldn’t have happened in quite the same way [without the paper].  That there’s a functioning RIRA – we had a big part to play in that.”

Perhaps the biggest impact The WIRE had on the community was to legitimize Roosevelt Island as a community.  As Resnick charges, “It really gave people an identity.  Otherwise, you’re just a bedroom community.”

The Tram did come back after that four-month shutdown – and the paper continued to print.  The early years of the paper reflected a small community that was starting to form an identity.  There were articles orienting Islanders to where they were in the world, pieces about the Big Allis generating plant and the Pepsi sign.  There were building-centric stories, which don’t exist much these days, about Rivercross resales, Eastwood rent increases, and Island House maintenance, for example.  There were birth announcements and farewells.  And there were stories about Island services and governance.

There were a lot of stories about transportation, which is still the case.  From the time The WIRE started publishing until the subway came in 1989, there were constant updates about construction, including pictures, and the opening date was always shifting.  Islanders had been promised a subway.

According to Resnick, SportsWIRE was very popular.  He says, “The sports pages had a big influence on the community.  Back when Barry Puritz was doing the sports pages, people loved them, especially the men’s softball league.  Those guys loved to see their names in print.  [The WIRE] did a lot for the Little League, and the soccer league too.”

Regarding his vision for the paper, Resnick says, “The physical structure of the newpaper I just stole from my college paper.  It took a matter of two months, at the most, between the idea and first issue.  After that, it seemed like bi-weekly would be often enough because everyone was a volunteer.  Month to month seemed like it would be too long.  The energy was amazing, though.  We had a bunch of talented people who really wanted to do it.  We found a printer.  In fact, what I did was go to the printer who printed my college paper.  Getting all of the advertising was really Terri’s doing.”  [Terri Dancik was Resnick’s wife at the time.] “She set that up.  I used a program called Quark Express for layout.  PCs were just happening.  We may have been cutting and pasting at the beginning.  We funded, originally, to get things going.  Every now and then for the first few years, I had to put up money to keep it going, but not a lot.  It was well worth it.  What an amazing thing to have started.”

The first issue of the new paper included a piece called The Whys of The WIRE.  It affirmed the need for a strong Island voice to keep Island services intact.  It stated as its mission that “The WIRE hopes to help unify the Island and focus it on its needs. Providing this focus requires that Island residents have access to all relevant information from a comprehensive and unbiased source.”

That hyperlocal advocacy perspective was also evident in the section about opinions.  “Our opinions will be reasoned and will have the survival of the Island as a place to live and raise families as their primary objective.  These opinions will not, however, find their way into our news pages.”

Initially, The WIRE was divided into six departments – sports, news, feature, photography, graphics, and business.  Resnick recalls, “I’d say for three or four years, the group was pretty solid. There were a lot of people working. The people on The WIRE were a cross-section, so we knew what was going on everywhere.  People would stop us on the street and tell us what was going on.”

The acronymic title of the paper represented the four buildings on the Island at the time – Westview, Island House, Rivercross, and Eastwood.  Resnick made a conscious effort to recruit residents with varied backgrounds and experience from all four buildings to volunteer.

Family History

The Resnicks moved to Roosevelt Island in 1977 with a three-year old son and another one on the way, and had twin sons arrive in 1984.  “I took a job on East 61st Street, and then we had to decide where to live.  1977 represented the depths of the real estate market.  The City almost collapsed financially in 1977, led by the UDC [New York State Urban Development Corporation]; the people who built this place went broke.  We had a choice in 1977.  We could have gotten a single-family house in the village for some tiny number like $40K or an apartment in Rivercross. [Roosevelt Island] seemed like the ideal place for us.  That’s how it happened.  I lived here for 20 years before I was even a doctor here.”

WIRE Transitions

“At the end, it was just me, and I just couldn’t do it anymore,” explains Resnick on why he stopped doing The WIRE in the early 1990’s.  Jim Bowser, who had been a regular contributor and had newspaper experience, agreed to take it on, but until Dick Lutz came along in 1996, Resnick remained the paper’s publisher.

Resnick would not have given it over to just anyone, despite how ready he was to have it off his shoulders.  Even now, years later, he says, “I am committed to [The WIRE’s] continuance.  I will do anything I can to make that happen.  I am not going anywhere.  I think a community newspaper is such an important thing.  For me to see it still happening is fabulous, and I won’t let it die.”

Despite passing the responsibilities of The WIRE on and moving off the Island, Resnick is still a member of the Island community as our internist.  He explains that, “Dr. Kathie Grimm took care of all my kids and kept saying, This place needs an internist.  I really wanted to do it, but I had this other important stuff I was doing.  One day in 1997 she said to me, Jack, you always say you want to do it, but Mt. Sinai is about to put some salaried full-time employees here to open an office.  So I went to Sinai and said, You guys can do this, but I am going to open up an office, too, and I’ve been there for 20 years, and they didn’t – I did.  I stopped everything else I was doing and did this.  It’s been the best decision of my life.  So much happens on this level.  You can’t imagine what it’s like to be a small-town doctor these days.  It’s like heaven.  A lot of sad things happen, but it’s a fabulous, fabulous thing.”

From Resnick’s current vantage point, “Roosevelt Island is one of the only successful models of a community in which the frail and the elderly have successfully been incorporated into the community at large.  It was also one of the few successes in mixing people from different economic strata. It’s a shame to lose that.  The larger issue about this place is the disabled, these homebound people.  This is a very large topic nationally.”  It is also one he’s working on at a national level, using Roosevelt Island as a model for delivering health care to the homebound through programs like Fully Integrated Dual Advantage (FIDA) and Independent at Home (IAHNow.com).

He is not one of those Island pioneers who was against Island development beyond the original four buildings, and says,  “I am not one of those people that said we should stay small.  If anything, more development brought more services.  Hey, it’s returned the pizza place.  There’s a health clinic that’s coming.  It’s going to be a godsend for me.  I really prefer taking care of the people that really need me – those who really need my skills.  I am happy to have someone else around.  The change that most distresses me is the disappearance of the planned community with mixed incomes.”

Resnick concludes, “In my life, I’ve done national stuff, but nothing compares to having started a little town newspaper that’s still going.  You make an imprint on the world as a doctor on some level, but it’s relatively small.

 

 “The WIRE has changed this town.  What’s more important than a newspaper?”

Tags: island history journalism WIRE Main Street WIRE

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