Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


May 25, 2009

Brooklyn, Baby, Brooklyn!

Gersh Kuntzman may be the best borough's biggest booster.

Vincent Valk

Gersh Kuntzman covers Brooklyn as editor of the Brooklyn Paper, a community weekly that is so, well, community-based that it actually has several editions for different borough neighborhoods. Kuntzman, who has lived in Brooklyn for 20 years, is a tireless promoter of his paper—which, he (quite) often points out, is award-winning—. Judge if you must, but his brashness harks back to the style of classic tabloid journalism, and he's truly willing to boldly go where many newspapermen have never gone before. There was, for example, the time the self-styled "legendary Brooklyn journalist" auctioned his cast on eBay; he also posed as a nude model for a Bushwick drawing class, recording the session and then posting it on the Brooklyn Paper homepage.

Gersh Kuntzman. Photo by Adrian Kinloch
"Even if you’re rich and can afford to live in Manhattan, the fact that you choose to live in Brooklyn says something about you."

Gersh Kuntzman. Photo by Adrian Kinloch

In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Kuntzman muses on what makes the borough so great, the fate of community newspapers, and the indignity that is contemporary bagel-making. You can hear Kuntzman, along with Garrett Oliver and Tom Folsom, speak at Gelf's Non-Motivational Speaker Series, Brooklyn Edition, on Thursday, May 28, at JLA Studios in DUMBO, Brooklyn (where else?).

Gelf Magazine: What's so great about Brooklyn, anyway?

Gersh Kuntzman: You gotta live in Brooklyn. You go to Brooklyn, there's a lot of stuff that is different from Manhattan. Brooklyn is awesome because if you go to a show, the band lives around the corner, and they're sticking around the bar afterwards, hanging out with everyone. It's the magic of smaller groups of people. I don't believe in God or feng shui or any of that stuff, but Brooklyn has an energy and a spirit that's tough to find anywhere else. Almost everything that is good about Manhattan, you can find in Brooklyn, yet all the stuff you don't like about Manhattan, that's not in Brooklyn.

Gelf Magazine: Where did you grow up?

Gersh Kuntzman: I was actually born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester. I've been in Brooklyn for 20 years.

Gelf Magazine: How has Brooklyn changed in the time you've been living in the borough? How has it stayed the same?

Gersh Kuntzman: One thing that is consistent about Brooklyn is that it has always been a place where neighborhoods have personalities. People in Brooklyn think of themselves as neighbors, as Brooklynites first. One thing that has obviously changed is that there's more money now, but the essential qualities of the different neighborhoods remain the same.

Gelf Magazine: Is there a danger that Brooklyn is becoming more like Manhattan?

Gersh Kuntzman: You worry because of the luxury rentals, maybe, but it's not a big deal to me because the people who move there want to be there. They share the borough's soul. Even if you're rich and can afford to live in Manhattan, the fact that you choose to live in Brooklyn says something about you.

Gelf Magazine: How do you think residents of the borough feel about the Bloomberg administration's efforts to rezone much of Brooklyn, especially the waterfront, for higher density development?

Gersh Kuntzman: That's a very controversial question that requires a long answer. I would not like to characterize the borough's overall support for the mayor, but I do think he'll get a strong vote in Brooklyn, which is basically 90 percent Democratic.

Gelf Magazine: How are community papers faring? Do you think the niche nature of your market means that you'll fare better than the big metropolitan dailies?

Gersh Kuntzman: Community papers are doing relatively well, but there are clouds on the horizon, just like with everyone else. And I don't think I'd characterize us as "niche"—the Times is niche, too. Their niche is people who want a worldly, informed newspaper. Our niche is the same, but on a local level. People may be turning away from print products, but there is always a hunger for information. Personally, I'd love to plant a chip in people's heads that beams my stories to them directly, but until then we're going to have to work on the best ways to get information to them.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think the Brooklyn Paper will always have a print edition, or will it go web-only at some point?

Gersh Kuntzman: For the foreseeable future, we'll still be in print. Print is what people take on the subway—most of us are not going to read a whole news story on our BlackBerries. Also, I don't really consider, say, a Kindle version of the paper to be a non-print edition. The presentation is the same, more or less, and people will use it to read stories the way they do in print. A book on the Kindle is still the same book. All that said, nobody can predict what will happen 20 years from now.

Gersh Kuntzman: Full Frontal Editor

Gelf Magazine: How's Rupert doing? How has running the paper changed since News Corp. took you over?

Gersh Kuntzman: I haven't met Rupert. We're part of a big company now, so that's different, but a big company is really just a lot more individuals. I don't think the attitude has changed. The notion that we are not an independent, family-owned newspaper now is absurd. We're not owned by the government. The family that owns us just happens to own a lot of other stuff. Our coverage is still the same.

Gelf Magazine: Fill in the blanks: _______ is the "new Brooklyn." Brooklyn is the "new _______."

Gersh Kuntzman: Nothing is the new Brooklyn; Brooklyn ain't dead yet. Brooklyn is the new New York.

Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.

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Article by Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.

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