This is a real newspaper,” insists Howard Schwach, the managing editor of The Wave, Rockaway’s weekly community newspaper. And that is true, although it’s about as small a paper as one can imagine. The newsroom consists of four desks. The paper’s owner and publisher, Susan Locke, keeps a pottery studio on the third floor and displays her crafts in the office’s storefront window. Schwach himself reports about a dozen stories an issue.
But Rockaway is a reporter’s dream, a small, isolated community with big-city problems, and while The Wave covers every eighth-grade graduation and Little League parade in town, the paper also boasts a genuinely first-class investigative-reporting division (i.e., Schwach). Some of the stories The Wave has reported this year: the booming population of registered sex offenders residing in Rockaway; the proposed closing of many of Rockaway’s adult homes; the saga of Kareem Bellamy, a convicted murderer whose 25-to-life sentence was overturned based on evidence now suspected to be fraudulent; the financial controversy surrounding Democratic district leader Geraldine Chapey. These are not the types of stories one typically finds in a community paper. “This isn’t just some sheet that’s put out to praise Rockaway,” Schwach says. “The stories we follow are often blotter items in the Times or the Post, but they’re important stories in Rockaway, and the people who live here aren’t going to get that news anywhere else.”
The Wave, which first appeared in 1893, soon after a fire took out the neighborhood of Seaside and an ambitious printer dashed off a single page of coverage, hasn’t been immune to this year’s newspaper devastation. “We’re down,” Locke says. Issues that used to run about 100 pages per week are now running in the eighties. But while the recession has cut into the buying power of advertisers, The Wave remains a vital tool for local businesses. “Rockaway is isolated,” Howard explains. “Because of the tolls on the bridges, nobody’s coming from the mainland to shop at Rockaway places,” and retailers have to work to keep Rockaway residents from leaving the peninsula. The Wave has a subscription-based website (a model now returning to vogue among much larger papers) and provides a web presence for all of the mom-and-pops that advertise in the paper.
This past fall, Representative Anthony Weiner, a longtime fan, went on the congressional record to recognize the paper. He has been the target of their criticism on a number of occasions (“Make no mistake, when I get bitten by The Wave, I feel it,” he confesses), but every Friday he sends a staffer to buy the paper for him, and if he’s in D.C., the pages are clipped and faxed over. “I cancel my subscription to the Times two or three times a year,” he says, “but I can’t do without The Wave.”