Small-Town Paper in Upscale Spot
Georgetown Courier Editor Warren Rogers covers news in the shadow of Washington
WHEN reporters hunker down and talk about what they'd like to be doing someday, they're liable to mention the legendary Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White of The Emporia Weekly Gazette. Or, if they're also film buffs, it might be Kevin Kline's dream job in the movie "Violets are Blue," as editor of a weekly newspaper by the sea.The myth is that on a weekly, deadlines are leisurely, big-city pressures don't interfere with getting the story, and you have plenty of time to polish it. Those are the allegations. Meet Warren Rogers, brand new editor of the 2 1/2-month-old Georgetown Courier, a weekly published in what is not exactly Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" but one of the most sophisticated towns in the United States. "This is not a giant metropolitan operation, but it is a city paper in microcosm, I guess," says Mr. Rogers. "A deadline is a deadline, and I miss 'em just the ways I've always missed 'em. You know, struggling and fighting and scratching, and you hope if you can't make it you won't be miserably late. I've always found a story is a story, and it doesn't matter whether you're covering a foreign ministers' meeting or a Boy Scout meeting. You use the same ... 'who, what, where, when, why, and how. Rogers should know. His work as a reporter for the Associated Press took him from covering Louisiana politics and government to the State Department, White House, national politics, and international stories. He later joined the Washington bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, covering the presidency and politics, then went on to become the Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau chief and Look magazine's Washington editor. Along the way he was nominated twice for Pulitzer prizes and wrote five books, two o n the Vietnam War which he covered, and two on Robert F. Kennedy. A third Kennedy book, "The Fun Days: Robert and Ethel Kennedy at Hickory Hill, a Love Story," will be published next spring. Rogers, as a former National Press Club president and Overseas Press Club winner for overseas reporting, has attracted some celebrated bylines to The Georgetown Courier. Since the weekly began, it has been truffled with famous names: UPI's White House bureau chief Helen Thomas; retired New York Times columnist Warren Weaver Jr.; Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti; former Central Intelligence Agency director William Colby; and columnist Karen Feld. Rogers relaxes behind his editor's desk and talks about how his dream materialized. He and publisher Leonard Andrews, the businessman and art collector who recently owned the famous "Helga" collection by Andrew Wyeth, had been friends for years. Their friendship began when Mr. Andrews asked Rogers to write a weekly syndicated column, "Presidential Countdown" on the 1972 election. "The column was pretty successful, in 80 papers probably, and some of the big papers like the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune carried it," says Rogers. "And after that we sort of fell apart. I didn't see him for awhile, but we kept track of each other." Nearly 10 years later, Rogers walked into the Alla Rogers Gallery in Georgetown which his wife owns "and Leonard, who is an art lover, was in there.... One thing led to another, we talked about doing something together and I told him about my dream of putting out a proper Georgetown newspaper." Then associate publisher Richard Sandza, a former Newsweek correspondent who puts out The East Baltimore Guide and has production facilities and experience, was brought in by Andrews as part of the trio. You are greeted at the Courier offices by coral walls, a Norman Rockwell print of a newspaper office with Rockwell himself walking in the door, and a Michelangelo-inspired hand of God in a cloud, left by former tenants. Editor Rogers, an elegant-looking man with silver hair and aquamarine eyes, sits in a pinstriped suit and shirtsleeves. As the interview begins, he seems faintly uncomfortable in the role of the one who answers the questions. "I thought Georgetown needed a good, strong paper because no community such as ours can be properly covered from a distance, the way that any metropolitan newspaper would do it." There are two other Georgetown papers, The Georgetowner, which has been a tradition in the area for years, and The Georgetown Current, a recent offspring of the neighborhood paper The Northwest Current. Both publish every other week, unlike the weekly Courier, which is also the only paper in color. Rogers says of readers in Georgetown, where both he and Leonard Andrews now live, "It's an upscale, literate, aware, active, energetic group and I think they deserve better than they were getting from [The Georgetowner] which comes out every other week." So Rogers and his small staff are focusing The Georgetown Courier on the real issues to Georgetowners, with stories about the news as it applies to them: Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon "Promises No Favors to Georgetown," when they protest the city's turning the former Hurt Home for the Blind into a center for emotionally disturbed children. Among other local issues covered: the Georgetown Citizens Organization protest against a proposed Georgetown University power plant; neighborhood crime watches; a challenge to the proliferation of bars in Georgetown; and a warning of higher taxes on Georgetown homes. "They want what every community wants: peace and prosperity. They want to live in some quiet, they're worried about crime," says Rogers. Gradually the paper is also adding columns on the arts: books, local art galleries (35 of them), theater, movies, music, even antiques. Circulation of the free paper that subsists on ads has gone from scratch to 15,000 since the ambitious weekly started up this summer in a loden green and white storefront on M Street.