2012-06-20 / Features

Queens Gazette Remains True To Its Roots

John Toscano John Toscano Three decades ago, a group of community activists from Astoria, Long Island City, Dutch Kills and elsewhere, banded together to rescue a neighborhood weekly newspaper which had started up in the area but was threatened with being abandoned by its owner.

The volunteer brigade decided to continue publishing it, and chose the name, Western Queens Gazette, because they felt there was a need for it, and despite many obstacles and hurdles, kept it going as long as possible.

Their first issue appeared on Feb. 1, 1982. But their perseverence and hard work paid dividends, and eventually ownership of it fell into the hands of its present publisher, Tony Barsamian, and today, the little weekly that would not be denied, celebrates its 30th Anniversary.

Barsamian took the occasion to note the Queens Gazette’s accomplishments over that long span, chief among which was that he and two previous owners managed to get an edition out to the public every week no matter what difficulties they encountered.

Buster Celestino Buster Celestino Looking back at the reigns of original owners, George Stamatiades and John Toscano, and including himself, Barsamian stated: “The bottom line in this business is to meet your readers’ expectations that no matter what obstacles may confront you, you will put an edition out on the street each week, on time, with timely, interesting and accurate news and advertising content. With great pride, our staff has met those standards again today.”

As befits this special occasion, the special roles played by Stamatiades and Toscano in the history of the Gazette will be covered in this issue. Neither is a stranger to our readers.

Stamatiades has spent a lifetime in Long Island City as a funeral director and outspoken community leader. The story of how he guided the Gazette through its earliest days will be covered in a separate narrative in this issue.

Toscano and part-owner Baldassero (Buster) Celestino succeeded Stamatiades and operated the Gazette for about eight years before Barsamian took the reins of the newspaper January 1990. Toscano previously worked as a political reporter with the New York Daily News and Celestino, better known as “Buster”, had a 25-year career as a business owner in Astoria before retiring to Florida in 1994. Celestino also played a key role in the launching of the Gazette in 1982. When Toscano and Celestino acquired the Gazette from Stamatiades, it was agreed that Toscano would have full control over news-gathering and advertising functions, and Celestino would have an active role in promoting the product.

Toscano left the News after 33 years of service, during which, in his latter years there, he wrote columns on Queens and Brooklyn political matters and other general political news and community developments.

Assessing the newspaper’s achievements since he acquired it in 1990, Barsamian hit on several cogent points:

•Its impact on communities covered.

•Expanded coverage of news.

•A wide, loyal readership, including more than 300,000 online and hard copy readers.

•Outreach through the Internet.

“It’s been a privilege and honor to serve the people of Queens over the past 22 years as the publisher of the Gazette,” Barsamian began.

“Among our accomplishments,” he stated, “I’m proud to cite that we’ve expanded our coverage and we have gotten involved in the various communities and their issues and we’ve become a part of their solutions.

“Looking back, as the years have passed and we’ve grown as a newspaper, it’s a thrill to see people reading our paper while talking into their phone to someone who’s also reading our paper, so they are having a conversation over some story or ad in the paper. You get a sense of pride.”

But, he admitted, “I am most impressed with the number of readers that we have online, about 150,000 ‘unique visitors’,” (lapsing into Internet jargon).

Continuing on the topic of the Gazette’s readership, Barsamian explained: “All totalled, we are in 45 neighborhoods in the borough. This kind of outreach couldn’t be possible except that everyone working on the paper—full-timers, parttimers, interns—is doing their job and doing it right.”

Turning the discussion to the paper’s basic aims, Barsamian noted: “We have never forgotten our roots and we’re here to serve our readers, and I look forward to the next 30 years with hopes of growing still further.”

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