In Asbury Park and beyond, The Coaster covers the nooks and crannies

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Mar 1, 2019

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, residents are on the lookout for a possible serial cat killer after two feline corpses were discovered in corner trash cans. This story hit the national airwaves, but rest assured, the news is not all bad in Monmouth County.

In fact, things are going pretty well, according to The Coaster, a weekly newspaper that has been covering county happenings for nearly four decades.

Recent articles published on the newspaper’s WordPress site ( report that a $1.3 million living shoreline will be installed along some banks of the Shark River in the Neptune Township to improve areas impacted by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Asbury Park is preparing for its sixth annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and extravaganza that will attract more than 10,000 visitors to this city of 15,700.

The Coaster covers all of this and more. From garden clubs to rock and roll, Black History Month to local government, the newspaper’s tiny staff spreads itself thin to cover Monmouth County’s two cities and eight boroughs and townships.

In June 1983, Bob and Doris Carroll of Asbury Park put out the first issue of The Coaster. Published every Thursday, it was the city’s first weekly newspaper. Bob Carroll, who died in 2011, was a longtime newspaper man and an editor at The New York Daily News when he decided to start The Coaster.

“Asbury Park was a thriving beachfront community, and my father saw the potential there,” said Ellen Carroll, Bob’s daughter, who is now The Coaster’s editor and co-owner with Publisher Michael Booth. The Asbury Park Press, a daily newspaper owned by the Gannett Company, also covers the area.

“My father had always wanted to own a weekly newspaper,” she said. “Even though there was another newspaper in town, he saw a need to publish more hyperlocal news.”

When Ellen Carroll’s father started The Coaster, she was a reporter for The Asbury Park Press, where she had started her career after graduating from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). She left her daily reporting job to join her dad.

In those days, The Coaster was a free distribution newspaper, covering six municipalities in the Monmouth County area surrounding Asbury Park. By 1988, The Coaster had grown into a paid circulation newspaper covering 10 municipalities. Its circulation, a combination of subscribers and single-copy readers, is around 6,000 and swells to 7,000 during the summer months when the tourists and summer residents flock to one of the most popular beaches along the Jersey Shore.

Today, the paper averages 56 tabloid-format pages.

Monmouth County, home to more than 625,000 residents, is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States with a median household income of $91,807 (in 2017 dollars), according to the United States Census Bureau.

At the turn of the 20th Century and for decades, Asbury Park enjoyed its heyday and was considered the crown jewel in a long strand of urban, Victorian architectural treasures along the Jersey coast.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, singing anthems celebrating the common man and ballads of longing and romance on the boardwalk, helped bring rock and roll fame to Asbury Park in the 1980s. By the ‘90s, the area had fallen on hard times. The boardwalk amusements and carnival rides had stopped running, vibrant storefronts had faded, and beachfront commerce was mostly gone. Asbury Park’s downtown was showing signs of wear and tear.

Today, Asbury Park is making a comeback. About a decade ago, local leaders and developers created a vision and spent money on the infrastructure. Now, the downtown area is experiencing a renaissance.

Through it all, The Coaster has kept up its steady drumbeat for Asbury Park and the other communities it covers. And it still fills a need, according to Carroll.

“We were the area’s first and only weekly newspaper, and we have always offered a more affordable opportunity for small businesses to advertise,” she said.

Without depending on big box stores, the newspaper’s future depends on the survival of the local businesses and retailers. The newspaper works hard for every ad it sells while championing the growth and revitalization of the towns and boroughs in its coverage area.

“We are not an alternative weekly. We are a mainstream, old-school, hyper-local newspaper,” Carroll said. “We cover schools, sports, local government, taxes and the overall community. If you want to know who the local police chief is, we’ve got that covered.”

The Coaster also runs an extensive entertainment section to appeal to the hipsters and younger readers who might not live in Asbury Park but who commute in to enjoy the bar and club scene. The typical regular subscribers are middle-aged adults with children.

For Carroll, it is important to be a part of the community she covers. She knows her readers and local business owners personally; she uses the local services and pays local taxes.

Working with a small staff of two full-time employees — herself and the newspaper’s co-owner — Carroll manages to cover the news and serve the business community with a team of part-time employees and freelance writers. With 10 towns to cover, they rely on meeting agendas, minutes and other public records to cover local government. Their spare resources limit their ability to do investigative reporting, but they have managed to rack up several journalism awards, one in New Jersey Press Association's Responsible Journalism contest.

“Our biggest challenge is in the digital world,” Carroll said. “We have both a print and internet presence, but we struggle to compete with social media. We realize that often when you read news in social media, you are getting someone’s opinion and not real news.”

Still, she counts her blessings and her ability to hang onto print subscribers. She sees a bright future for community newspapers and believes in an ongoing need for local, authentic community news and information her community needs to know.

The challenges are many, but the rewards are great.

“It’s nice when I hear from readers who love the newspaper and love that we print news they can’t read anywhere else,” she said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in Raleigh, NC. Reach her at