Meet the Crazy Guys Who Are Starting a Newspaper In Philadelphia

While newspapers across the country shrink and close their doors, the two Temple grads who took over Fishtown's Spirit newspaper last year say they're starting another newspaper in January.

Matthew Albasi (left) and max Pulcini (right)

Max Pulcini (left) and Matthew Albasi (right)

Last year, a pair of 2013 Temple University journalism graduates took over Fishtown’s Spirit newspaper, transforming it from your average print-only community newspaper to a modern publication and online presence that does hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting. Now they’re poised to do the same thing in a section of Philadelphia that they’re calling Penn’s Garden, which includes the neighborhoods of Brewerytown, Fairmount, Francisville, Spring Garden, Strawberry Mansion, North Central, Ludlow and Poplar.

“We looked back into history and learned that Fairmount Park was basically William Penn’s garden,” says Spirit editor Max Pulcini of the new publication, The Spirit of Penn’s Garden. “Plus ‘Penn’s Garden’ just sounds really fucking cool.” A Kickstarter was launched on Tuesday to support the effort.

A mockup of The Spirit of Penn's Garden.

A mockup of The Spirit of Penn’s Garden.

The original Spirit newspaper was started about a decade ago by two Fishtown residents after the longtime community newspaper, The Star, moved its offices out of the neighborhood. Pulcini interned at Spirit in 2012 when he was still at Temple, later becoming its lead reporter.

After graduating in 2013, Pulcini and fellow grad Matthew Albasi entered into talks with the newspaper’s owners about refreshing the print publication and modernizing the web presence. In the end, they decided to buy it, generating some cash from private investors. Albasi is the publisher.

The result is a newspaper and website that tell important stories about their communities, not necessarily “what play the local elementary school is producing,” as Pulcini characterizes the offerings of your average community paper. He calls what the Spirit does “hyperlocal done differently.” Advertisers include Nazareth Hospital, mechanics, lawyers, and other small business. The newspaper is distributed for free each Wednesday.

Since the pair took over in August 2014, Spirit published a five-part investigative story about the effects of a local methadone clinic on the neighborhood, a profile of the imam of one of the city’s oldest mosques, and a series featuring some of the area’s biggest nuisance blocks. There was also a piece called “Crime and No Punishment,” which exposed the dangers a pedestrian corridor called the Berks Walkway. Puncini says that as a result of the story, police took notice, and the area is now safer.

The editor explains that the team considered South Philadelphia for their second effort, but that area has an established newspaper — The South Philly Review — and also The Passyunk Post, a popular neighborhood blog.

“But Penn’s Garden has nothing,” he says. “You have Fairmount, which is already a thriving community, and Brewerytown, which could be the next Fishtown. And then it goes all the way up to Strawberry Mansion, where the only stories you have are these horrible Dude Gets Shot On This Corner stories. But there are great stories in Strawberry Mansion and room for investigative reporting. People deserve that kind of news in that neighborhood.”

As for the notion of starting a newspaper in 2015, when layoffs and closures abound, Pulcini doesn’t seem concerned. “Just because papers are closing doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for good journalism,” he insists. “There’s a need now more than ever, and we have a great back office that can sustain the production of two newspapers.”

According to Pulcini, the first issues of The Spirit of Penn’s Garden should appear in the cafes and other local businesses of the area sometime in January, distributed for free on Thursdays. They are hoping to raise $15,000 through their Kickstarter campaign, and donor rewards include spots on their board of advisors (you can have that for $1,000) and, admirably, a block cleanup (the reward for a $100 donation).

“We already have advertisers set and we’re lining up stories and freelancers now,” he explains. “We’re not just walking into these neighborhoods, throwing spaghetti all over the place and seeing what sticks.”

Watch their Kickstarter video below: