BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Dec. 12, 6 p.m.: While the historic, one-day union walkout strike at The New York Times this past Friday riveted the attention of many news readers, locally, in Greenwich Village attention has been even more focused on another media battle, albeit on a much smaller scale.
As first reported by this newspaper, earlier this month, a group of former staff and unpaid contributors of WestView News stunningly published a new breakaway newspaper, New WestView News.
The new newspaper’s first monthly print issue nearly exactly mirrors the design of the original, including the same front-page logo, in the same grayish-brown color and distinctive font — except with the word “New” inserted before it.
The defectors say they were driven away from WestView News after its publisher, George Capsis, 95, allowed his caretaker, Dusty Berke, to become the paper’s managing editor; and that they were disturbed by the paper’s recent tilt — which they attribute to Berke — toward conspiracy theories, such as about the 9/11 attack, for example, and a more conservative slant, out of sync with the Village’s liberal ethos.
The Village Sun met with Capsis at his Charles Street townhouse Friday to hear his side of the story, which he summed up as “a nightmare.” Subsequently, Arthur Schwartz, the senior editor of New WestView News, in a phone interview and in e-mails with The Village Sun, shared more details about the upstart paper, and explained why he thinks there is nothing legally wrong with what they have done so far.
Schwartz, who is the elected Democratic district leader for Greenwich Village, said the New WestView News is a nonprofit.
“I don’t own it,” he clarified. “It’s a collective group. … Nobody owns it, or is trying to make money off it, or is making money off it.”
As for the new tabloid-size paper’s strikingly similar design to the original WestView News, Schwartz said that won’t continue in subsequent printings of the new monthly.
“The graphic design will change a little, so it won’t confuse anybody,” he said. “The fonts will change.”
As for the paper’s name, though, Schwartz said he doesn’t feel it’s legally necessary to alter it. Adding to his certainty is the fact that he was, in fact, Capsis’s lawyer. Indeed, Capsis has noted how Schwartz actually represented him in suing the Village’s 6th Precinct 10 years ago after the WestView publisher — in a Bleecker Street bike lane dust-up — slapped a cop and then got punched in the face in return. But Schwartz was also the attorney for WestView News itself.
“I know he didn’t trademark [the name WestView] because I have been doing all of his legal work, personal and WestView and a foundation he started for 15 years — no fee,” Schwartz said. “He also never filed for copyright. He would have been denied.”
Schwartz claimed that “WestView” (or Westview) is a common name and that adding “News” to the end of it “doesn’t change things,” in terms of trademark or copyright law. He sent The Village Sun images he had found online of a half dozen or so other “Westview” logos from other business entities.
“You can’t copyright a name unless it’s unique,” he maintained. “To come up with a name that’s unique is pretty hard.”
However, he said, “Next month the title will likely change to New Westview, Voice of the Village and the Lower West Side. Published by a new nonprofit.”
In addition, Schwartz clarified that he did not exercise a prior agreement from October 2013 that allowed him to take over ownership of WestView News under certain conditions. However, he claimed that agreement is, in fact, still valid.
Meanwhile, Capsis and Berke counter that Schwartz subsequently, in October 2020, signed a letter “voiding” that agreement. But Schwartz said he felt “pressured” to write that letter two years ago.
However, Capsis said that in 2020 Schwartz was in a political campaign — he was running versus Erik Bottcher and a crowded field for the District 3 City Council seat — and badly wanted to start writing for the paper again, so consented to sign the agreement-voiding letter. Apparently, Capsis had not been letting Schwartz run his columns in the paper, depriving him of the power of the press and a way to promote himself to the public.
Under the original agreement, which Schwartz sent to The Village Sun, Schwartz was required to buy “no less than $30,000 worth of ads in WestView over the next 36 months.” If he did so, Schwartz would then own 1 percent of the stock of WestView News, Inc. In addition, if Capsis (who owned the other 99 percent of the WestView News stock) became “mentally incapacitated” or was on life support, Schwartz would become acting president and publisher in WestView News, with all of Capsis’s shares in WestView transferred to Schwartz. In short, Schwartz would own the paper.
Schwartz told The Village Sun that he did, in fact, meet the original agreement’s conditions. Capsis says he did not.
“I have supplied George with the invoices for all of the ads I promised to take, and confirmed with [the] bookkeeper that they were all paid. I do not consider what I wrote in 2020 valid,” he said of the “shall be voided” letter. “George threatened me to get me to sign it, even though I had paid $45,000 for the 2013 deal.”
Schwartz declined to reveal the nature of the alleged threat.
“But I have not ‘taken over’ George’s corporation or paper, and not exercised my rights under our deal,” he continued. “I decided against doing that. I decided not to fight him for control of his corporation; he had pretty much destroyed it, and probably has all kinds of signed agreements to sell/give it to Dusty. The staff came to me, remember — and based on my analysis, we started a new entity called New Westview News, Inc, a nonprofit with no ‘owners.’
‘This isn’t about any [prior] agreement with George,” he said. “When the staff came to me, they said, ‘We can’t take it anymore.’”
In addition, Schwartz said, “I didn’t want to get George declared incompetent. I felt it would take months to do litigation over who controls the paper. It wasn’t necessary. I felt WestView would collapse on its own without any staff. He can keep his corporation and his old paper. Starting a new corporation and a new paper was much easier.”
Furthermore, Schwartz raised the point: “There is a serious question here: Is a paper its owner or is it its staff?”
In that vein, Schwartz noted how this writer was formerly the editor of The Villager, “which everyone loved.” He then made a disparaging comment about the state of that paper today. The Village Sun, meanwhile, was founded three years ago.
“You chose a different name [The Village Sun]; we chose a more related name,” he said.
“George can keep control of his paper and publish what he wants,” Schwartz said. “The reception of New WestView has been fabulous. Most people say, ‘Thank God; WestView had gone off the deep end.’”
People clearly have been taking sides — and not just the staff and contributors, as seen in sometimes heated reader comments in The Village Sun. None other than Sarah Jessica Parker, the A-list Villager and “Sex and the City” star, has weighed in, too…seemingly for New WestView. In an Instagram post under her “SJP” handle five days ago, she wrote, in part, “This is the way I stay informed about my community in NYC. @westviewnews (The New!)” However, she linked to the Instagram page of WestView News — not the new paper.
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Parker did not respond to an Instagram message asking her to clarify which paper she is behind.
However, the celeb’s “’gram” thumbs-up for “The New!” is yet another blow to the nonagenarian Capsis, who on Friday several times noted he was eagerly awaiting a phone call of support from her — though was only getting marketing robocalls.
Clearly concerned about Parker’s post, Capsis mentioned it right off the bat during the interview.
“She was misled,” he insisted. “She was misled.”
Similar to how it was handled at WestView News, contributing writers at New WestView News will not be paid, although the small core staff of four persons will be compensated, Schwartz said. Schwartz is a successful activist attorney, known for representing municipal labor unions. However, he said he hasn’t had to shell out money for the paper so far, since, as he put it, “significant contributions” have been flowing into the new paper.
“Maybe I laid out $40,” he shrugged.
According to Schwartz, Capsis paid $10 an hour to his staffers, who were considered “independent contractors.” But Schwartz said, since he supports the minimum wage, the New WestView staffers could eventually be paid more than $20 an hour, per a new, annually-increasing, minimum-wage bill pending in the New York State Legislature.
As for contributors, Schwartz said the new paper is being flooded with articles that people have sent in, and that already 34 people have said they want to write for the paper.
“Whatever gets in, gets in,” he said of the submissions.
When The Village Sun interviewed him on Friday, Capsis was particularly upset that Brian Pape, WestView’s architecture editor, was not returning his calls, saying he feared he was “firmly in Arthur’s camp.”
“He’s already submitted something [for New WestView News],” Schwartz confirmed.
Schwartz said he has also asked Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, to contribute a monthly piece. He said Shannon McNamara, who podcasts under the handle “Fluently Forward,” will be writing about restaurants.
Capsis is especially livid that Schwartz and Co. have even poached his distributor, a former merchant marine in his 70s named Tim, who trundles the paper around on foot in a shopping cart to area stores and residential buildings, logging 41 miles per each monthly issue.
At this point, it’s not clear that any kind of reunification with Capsis is likely. A note to readers on the front page of the New West View News’s first issue, asked Capsis to reunite with the new newspaper — but without Berke: “We continue to respect George, who, we hope, will join his old staff once again, absent the distractions,” the note said, in part.
Asked if he still wants Capsis to rejoin them, Schwartz offered, “George can keep his paper. I’ll call him again.
“I [told him], ‘Everyone wants to work with you, even though you’re a pain in the ass to work with. No one wants to work with Dusty.'”
However, a furious Capsis has not given any sense he wants to team up with the breakaway bunch, sneering, in disbelief, on Friday, “They give me permission to come back to my paper.”
More to the point, Capsis and Berke have been meeting with attorneys to see what, if anything, can be done about the new newspaper with the same design and a version of the same name as WestView. Capsis said he has two attorneys on the case, one pro bono and one whom he has paid a $5,000 retainer.
While some would certainly call the WestView / New WestView drama a wild story, Schwartz said it’s really about empowering workers.
“It’s only wild because commie Arthur advised the workers to take control, and came up with a way to do it,” he said. “This is basically a workers commune — all I do is write stuff and help coordinate.”
He said next month’s January issue of New WestView News will probably be 24 pages, the same size as this month’s debut issue. WestView’s last published issue, in November, was 40 pages.
“I think we’re going to hold it at 24,” he said.
As of Dec. 11, WestView News had not published a December print issue.
In related news, in a sad loss, Maggie Berkvist, who was a longtime contributor to WestView News and who had made the jump along with the others to the New WestView News, died late Friday at around age 90.
A former photo editor at The New York Times who had continued in that role at WestView, she recently suffered a bad fall while walking in the Village and broke a hip. According to someone who was there, Berkvist was on her way to the Left Bank restaurant, which she referred to as her “local,” for her usual cocktail hour.
She reportedly was taken to Lenox Health Greenwich Village and, after getting X-rays, was transferred to the Bellevue Hospital trauma unit, where she had surgery a few days later.
“She was a brilliant photographer, whose photos were an important part of WestView and was part of the crew that left,” Schwartz said. “She was so happy about the new paper. She had photos in our first edition.”
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that, when she fell, Maggie Berkvist was scouting out a location for a party to celebrate the founding of the New WestView News.