Memorializing a weekly alternative newspaper taken too soon
By Lyndsey TeterPublished February 1, 2013
The Other Paper, aged 22, went to be with the Lord on Jan. 31, 2013. The paper was found lifeless in a hall closet of Dispatch Printing Company CEO John W. Wolfe, of Miranova, where it reportedly had been living for several months. While police initially suspected autoerotic asphyxiation, authorities later determined the paper had gone months without food or water. Although it showed no external signs of malnutrition, an autopsy revealed it appeared to have succumbed from complications of an undiagnosed case of syphilis. Police would not comment further until it was determined whether neglect charges would be filed against Wolfe.
The Other Paper was born of turbulent times: It was the late ’80s in Columbus, when WNCI rotated between Wilson Phillips and Bell Biv Devoe, and when print media advertising revenues had little difficulty supporting not one, but two daily newspapers. The Other Paper was the second child of business partners Max S. Brown and Herb Cook, Jr. After successfully raising a spunky and profitable magazine called Columbus Monthly, and following the tragic homicide of the city’s beloved daily newspaper, the Columbus Citizen-Journal, Brown and Cook decided they were ready to add to their media family.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to adopt an independently owned, but financially struggling newspaper called Columbus Alive, (Alive owners filed bankruptcy in order to maintain their independence from Brown’s publishing group) the media mogul decided to knit his own offspring. Sprung from the womb of CM Media on a crisp October evening in 1990, the city’s second or third weekly alternative newspaper of the moment came into the world.
After a smack on the butt, and a healthy cry from his new publication, Brown saw fit to name it “The Other Paper,” a surname that would confuse sources and befuddle all reporters and editors who worked for the newspaper until its untimely demise.
Moments after the birth, the paper was welcomed by former mayor Buck Rinehart, who gifted the still-wet infant with its first cover story, “Buck talks back,” a juicy piece wherein Mayor Buck denies an illicit affair. The visit was the first of many for Rinehart, who, even after his mayorship concluded in 1992, returned on countless occasions to provide precious editorial fodder for the fledgling newspaper, going so far as to engage in a night of post-tailgating revelry that led to a drunken crash, almost literally paving the way for the paper to print an infamous map that detailed his intoxicated 1995 offense and slow-motion getaway.
From its infancy, nearly all of the papers’ daily needs were met by Danny Russell, a bespectacled au pair of Brown, who saw to it personally that the paper did not fail to seize on every opportunity provided by the town’s mayors, underwear billionaires, public college presidents or football coaches. Each time Wes Lexner demanded a comically expensive interchange onto I-270 – or built a white-picket-fenced utopian government out in the country, Russell was there, making sure The Other Paper struck the perfect tone. Nary a proposed Columbus-based international flower show could escape TOP’s unique brand of snark.
In its adolescent years, The Other Paper exercised editorial muscle, covering its colleagues in the media.
If a broadcast anchorman lost his teeth on-air, TOP would break it down for a frame-by-frame analysis. If a hot anchorbabe possessed an indiscernible blend of Australian and Boston accents (or was that a hint of Toledo?), TOP would bring in a professional linguist to pinpoint where exactly she came from. Or if some poor working street reporter measured snow with some object other than a ruler, by God, The Other Paper staff was trained to respond accordingly.
This well-oiled machine of irreverence noticed stuff while driving around, too. If a Nationwide billboard vaguely resembled a shirtless Les Wexner, gold was spun. Or if a professional hockey team was about to force Columbusians into enduring another lame team name, The Other Paper poured heart and soul into a citywide campaign. (Mad Cows, anyone?) “In your face, every Thursday,” friends recall the paper used to say. When things got dull, they would send music critic John Petric to ComFest or a Rock on the Range concert at Crew stadium.
Columbus rewarded The Other Paper’s strange but effective role in a healthy democratic society, as by 1995, it quickly had outpaced its competitors to become the city’s leading alternative newspaper. By the early 2000s, everyone was singing that stupid jingle. Almost two decades went by before tragedy struck.
After presumably suffering a head injury at golf outing or something, Brown decided to sell his hard-fought media empire, including The Other Paper, in exchange for a check totaling $44 million to a supervillian named Syndrome from the movie The Incredibles. (No kidding. Look him up.) It was a great deal for Brown, but the new publisher of the inherited alternative weekly struggled to accept The Other Paper’s successful formula, reportedly losing his temper and making strange demands, suggesting the newspaper stop covering politics and put Buckeye football on the cover every week. It was the worst of times.
Under Syndrome’s leadership, the $44 million media company lost value at rapid pace, declaring bankruptcy in a few short months. In fact, under different circumstances, the meteoric decline could have made a comical chart in The Other Paper. But the editorial staff wasn’t in the mood, as they were mourning the loss of longtime caretaker Russell, who was found smothered to death by the paper’s surging advertising-to-editorial ratios in 2008. The paper was left in the care of Dan Williamson, Russell’s right-hand man. Under Williamson, the paper continued to drink at lunch and produce award-winning content, but friends noticed a more sullen attitude.
One day, Williamson went out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned.
The paper spiraled into depression until part-time Frank Zappa lookey-likey Eric Lyttle took the reins in 2008. Despite receiving no money or new reporters from his Texas-based overlords, Lyttle saw the paper through its early 20s, gave its staff a constant supply of change for the pop machines, and summoned a last burst of creative energy. For the first time in its history, the paper started winning awards from the Society of Professional Journalists in categories like “Best Ohio Alternative Weekly.”
Just when a full-blown Diet Coke-fueled resurgence was in the works, The Other Paper was purchased by The Dispatch Printing Company’s John Wolfe. Despite Wolfe’s reputation as hip, snarky and unapologetically detached from the city’s political, civic and corporate institutions, the relationship was rumored to be awkward. Friends lost track of the paper, but last anybody heard, the paper was living in the Wolfe’s personal residence, and that it was “only temporary.”
Four months later, The Other Paper was found dead.
Preceded in death by siblings The Upper Arlington News and the Westerville News and Public-Opinion, The Other Paper leaves no heir, having fathered only one son, John Petric, now estranged.
Those grieved by the loss of The Other Paper can take heart: In its stead, the role of alternative weekly newspaper in our ever-growing city will be singlehandedly executed by Columbus Alive, also owned by the Dispatch Printing Company’s family of Wolfes. In Columbus, the Wolfe name has become synonymous with edgy, youthful independence. No doubt the new owners of Columbus’s sole subversive weekly rag will know exactly what to do with it.
Friends may call on The Other Paper at Bob’s Bar beginning at 4:30 p.m., but most will likely start showing up around 3.
In lieu of flowers, please send money to the Restore AmeriFlora fund, headquartered at the Columbus Dispatch offices, c/o Ben Marrison, 34 S. Third Street, Columbus OH 43215.