“Timing is everything in life,” states a wise adage. And so it was in 1980 when two neighborhood guys, one 29 and the other 33, who were actively engaged in local civic work and Democratic party politics, tossed around ideas to make their political club, the Thomas Paine Independent Democratic Club, more essential to the Throggs Neck/Pelham Bay area, and came up with a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On that brisk October evening over a couple of drinks at their favorite restaurant, Dominick’s, on Westchester Avenue (now the site of the Social Security Office), Michael Benedetto and John Collazzi decided that the best approach to achieve their goal was to start a non-partisan community newspaper that residents from “both sides of the aisle” would enjoy.
However, there were several problems with the plan. First, neither Michael, a city teacher, nor John, a researcher in Manhattan, had any newspaper experience. And, secondly, there were already two formidable publications serving the area of the borough that they had set their eyes on covering.
The Bronx Press-Review commanded a strong following during its four decades and the more recent upstart, Bronx News, was known for its brutal political coverage. Both publications, which Bronxites turned for their local news, were owned by millionaires.
The big question, could another newspaper compete successfully, and if so, how would it be different than the others?
“I had run for political office three consecutive times, in 1976, 1978 and 1980. The first time for the NYS Assembly and twice for the State Senate. After the third loss I searched for other ways to serve my community and hence, the newspaper idea was born.” Benedetto recalls.
The business plan was simple, Mike would head up advertising and John was to generate the articles. The content would be hyper-local and thorough.
“By December we were ready to go. The project finally had a name, Bronx Times Reporter. It would be a free monthly, distributed to the communities of Throggs Neck, Locust Point, Silver Beach, Edgewater Park, Waterbury LaSalle, Pelham Bay, Country Club and Spencer Estate,” Collazzi said.
June 1981 was selected for the premiere issue. The front page trumpeted a letter from then-Mayor Ed Koch, wishing the paper much success. The two main stories focused on the desperate plea of Country Club residents for a new sewer system and the deplorable condition of Pelham Bay Park as well as upcoming events, little league scores, a few columns and the “Mystery Photo” contest which earned one lucky reader dinner-for-two at a local restaurant.
Every month Michael and John organized several 4-person crews of young teens to deliver the paper to each home.
The first printing was 15,000 copies, later adjusted to 17,000 and finally the circulation reached 21,000. Slowly the paper caught on and because the Bronx Times Reporter was the only paper with spot-color, the paper was often referred to as the Green Paper.
In 1983, the Morris Park Edition, the Blue Paper, was added and both papers were now issued bi-weekly. Two years later the Bronx Times Reporter converted to a paid circulation that was available for purchase at a 100 locations, including every newsstand or by paid subscription.
The call to return to politics was strong and Michael left the fledgling newspaper in 1987 to run for districtlLeader of the 82nd Assembly District, an unpaid position he held for 16 years. During the late 1980s, the Bronx Times Reporter went weekly and in 1996 four more editions were added called Bronx Times, which covered the remaining parts of the Bronx.
By this time the paper’s two competitors were being abandoned by most Bronx readers as they turned to the ever-increasingly popular Bronx Times/Bronx Times Reporter, which was providing crisp, positive news coverage of the Bronx.
After 26 years, and reaching an annual income eclipsing $3 million, the 6-edition Bronx Times/Bronx Times Reporter was sold to News Corporation, which was aggressively purchasing NYC local newspapers.
John stayed on as publisher until he retired in 2011. Laura Guerriero, an employee of the paper since 1987 and associate publisher from 2004, took over as publisher. Schneps Media Inc., owned by Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Joshua Schneps, purchased the Bronx Times/Bronx Times Reporter in 2018 from Community News Group, led by Jennifer and Les Goodstein.
In 2005, Michael Benedetto, retired from teaching, and fulfilled his lifelong dream. He was overwhelmingly elected to serve the people of the 82nd Assembly District and is now completing his ninth term in Albany. He was named the chair of the very important Assembly Education Committee 2019. John Collazzi has been his chief of staff since 2015.
“From a germ of an idea, and the best of timing, the Bronx Times/Bronx Times Reporter grew in 40 years to be the commanding newspaper of the Bronx. We’re so proud to have been part of the paper’s journey,” said the founders.
Here’s to another 40!