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In Mark Jenkins’ homage to Joel E. Siegel (“His Master’s Voice: Joel E. Siegel, 1940-2004,” 3/19), he mentions the late film reviewer’s stint at the Washington Tribune—the newspaper I founded in 1978. I looked forward to Siegel’s reviews in every issue. His contributions were fresh, informed, and often iconoclastic: three hallmarks of a good alternative newspaper.
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Incidentally, Jenkins stated that the Tribune “fell apart in late 1982.” Um, not exactly. I served as editor in chief and publisher throughout the Tribune’s existence. I have copies of the paper dating through April 1984, when the last issue went to press. Late 1982, as I recall, is about the time Jenkins left the paper. By then the Tribune, under the day-to-day editorial management of the talented Jenkins, along with Charles Paul Freund, had won Washingtonian magazine’s award for Best Small Paper in the Region, had been praised by no less an authority than the Columbia Journalism Review, and was widely recognized as the premiere alternative paper in D.C.
After Jenkins’ departure, the Tribune continued rolling along under capable and hardworking editorial and business staffs, building advertising lineage and continued editorial kudos. It went under in the spring of 1984 after a brutal advertising rate war with an extremely well-heeled competitor—the new owner of your newspaper. The shootout occurred after the Tribune declined a buyout feeler from the principal owner of the granddaddy of alternative newspapers (by page count, at least), the Chicago Reader. Rebuffed by our little pool of shareholders, the same individual subsequently bought the then-struggling City Paper group (Baltimore and Washington editions). The ad-rate attack on the Tribune followed, for the obvious (to me anyway) purpose of driving us out of business. Our readers and advertisers were incredibly loyal, but eventually we succumbed.
Just wanted to set the record straight. For what it’s worth, I do believe the Washington City Paper wears the editorial mantle of D.C.’s alternative paper du jour admirably, thanks in no small part to contributors such as Joel E. Siegel and others whose work once graced the pages of the Washington Tribune and its predecessors.