The little things in life sustain the West Essex (NJ) Tribune

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Jul 1, 2020

Left to Right: (Standing) Michael Izzo, editor; Ellen Whitney, graphic artist; Karen Trachtenberg, production manager; Ellen Lazer, editorial associate; Garry DeYoung, advertising representative; Grisel Cardona, production associate/typesetter; Ellen Harte, business manager; (Kneeling); Jenny Cone Chciuk, publisher, advertising director; Georgie, chief morale officer; Nancy Diner, retired editor, now proofreader; Christine Sablynski, managing editor.
Jenny Chciuk estimates she was 20 years old when this photo was made as she dummied the newspaper. She says her team still uses that same handwritten system for creating the dummy.
Early editor/publisher Bill Klaber (left) and Kit Cone, Jennifer’s father, in 1980, when he bought the paper from Klaber after working for the newspaper for many years.

Treats and belly rubs are the only motivation the West Essex (New Jersey) Tribune’s chief morale officer needs to get up and go to work each morning.

Publisher Jenny Cone Chciuk rescued Georgie from an animal shelter last spring, and she says during these challenging times, the puppy is uniquely qualified for her job description, which mainly focuses on lifting the staff’s spirits.

“Georgie often goes into the middle of the office and lies down on her back, just waiting to see who she can suck into giving her a belly rub,” Chciuk said in an email.

Chciuk became the 90-year-old West Essex Tribune’s fourth owner after buying the newspaper from her father, E. Christopher “Kit” Cone, in 2002.

Herbert Harris published the first issue of the Tribune on July 6, 1929. He sold it to William Klaber in 1938, who in turn sold it to Cone in 1980. Cone had worked as editor and publisher at the newspaper for two decades.

To say that Chciuk has had a multi-faceted career is putting it mildly. At 54, she has been working at the newspaper for 40 years.

“I went to high school right here in Livingston, where the Tribune is located,” she said. She started working at the newspaper as a teenager, doing mostly darkroom and production work.

“I would just walk down to the paper after school and work, and my dad would drive me home for dinner when he left work,” she added.

Chciuk lived at home with her parents and continued working at the Tribune while attending classes at nearby Seton Hall University to earn a nursing degree. After she received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she split her time between her job at the local hospital and the newspaper.

“I loved it,” she said. “I got to use the science part of my brain in nursing and the creative part of my brain at the newspaper, and my favorite time in my career was when I was doing both.”

She finally let go of her active nursing career in 1998, when a divorce left her a single mom with three children. Her father convinced her to work at the newspaper.

“I haven’t worked as a nurse since the early 2000s, and I miss it, but I keep my license active,” she said. “Even now, I wish I could be in the hospital helping, knowing how overwhelmed the nurses and doctors are.”

Still, she feels fulfilled knowing she is serving her community through her work at the newspaper.

“I run the business side of the newspaper,” she said. “I manage the advertising department, sell ads, and I do the pagination work. Every now and then, I write something.”

Last year, she won a first-place award in NNA’s Better Newspapers Contest for a column she wrote about her frightening experience on Maui in 2018 when an alarm falsely alerted people that a ballistic missile was heading straight for Hawaii.

The West Essex Tribune covers Livingston, New Jersey, a small town of about 30,000 in Essex County, just outside of Newark. The newspaper is published on Thursdays and has a circulation of 5,100. Subscribers receive their copies by mail, and single copies are sold from newsstands around town. The Tribune has a staff of 10 part–time and full–time employees and is one of just a handful of independent newspapers in New Jersey today, Chciuk said. She is an active member of NNA and the New Jersey Press Association, serving as NJPA president in 2012.

Over the years, the West Essex Tribune has woven itself into the fabric of its community. Last November, the Town of Livingston issued a proclamation honoring the newspaper for its 90 years of service, and a few years ago, the local Kiwanis Club named The Tribune as its Business of the Year.

“We have been a part of this community through its development, starting in 1929 to what it is today, and we’ve chronicled its history along the way,” Chciuk said.

One of the newspaper’s most popular features is a “looking back” column that reports on news from 40 years ago, accompanied by photos from that moment in time. Twice a year, the Tribune publishes special sections celebrating Livingston’s history.

“We’re fortunate we have a solid subscriber base, and part of that is because we have such an extensive institutional knowledge about the development of this town,” Chciuk said.

Even during the COVID-19 crisis, the newspaper has held up without having to lay off or furlough any staff. One empty ad sales position has gone unfilled, and Chciuk admits she was fearful when the pandemic forced local businesses to shut their doors. “We were momentarily paralyzed and worried about how we would survive,” she said. “These local businesses here are our bread and butter.”

But the local businesses are opening again, and the advertising is starting to return, along with a healthy mix of state and national advertising. When the pandemic struck last spring, Chciuk and her team put out a plea to readers and asked single–copy readers to subscribe and regular subscribers to extend their subscriptions an entire year.

“Our circulation took a little jump, and we got a good 300 or 400 new subscribers, which was a huge boost for us,” she said.

Local businesses and civic clubs took out ads advising residents to stay home and stay safe during the quarantine period, and Chciuk was buoyed by their support.

“We really felt a huge swell of support from our community organizations, the businesses that were open and the residents in town,” she said.

As in many small towns, a large percentage of local newspaper readership is made up of older adults. The Tribune uses extensive school coverage to court the young families who move to Livingston.

“Every week, we publish a picture from each of the six elementary schools when they are in session because parents love to see them,” Chciuk said.

The Tribune has an active Facebook page with more than 3,500 engaged friends, and while the newspaper has an online presence, the staff focuses most of their efforts on its print product.

“Our online product is not as active as our printed paper, and most of the people I talk to tell me they think the website is fine, but they would rather just get the newspaper,” Chciuk said. “I agree with them. I love print. I believe in print, and I think print is important.”

Chciuk admits the Tribune is fortunate to still be standing and believes that although the days of big profit margins are long past, she is always glad to reach the end of each year with bills and salaries paid and a positive bottom line.

“There’s a reason community newspapers have the word ‘community’ in them, and the key to their success is focusing on the communities they serve,” she said.

The Tribune runs a column each week called “Meet Your Neighbor.” It features stories of everyday people in town. A recent column focused on a local man who makes birdhouses, which started out as a hobby and has become a real business.

“We could have published just a picture of him and a caption, but we chose to write a feature about him instead,” she said. “We are in a busy town of 30,000, and here’s this guy who is making birdhouses. How cool is that?”

For Chciuk, a sharp focus on the little things in life makes a newspaper great, and that practice bodes well for their future.

“If newspapers will dig around and find stories of interest to people, such as fascinating facts about their neighbors, then community news will have a future,” she said.

Teri Saylor can be reached at