Friday, April 5, 2002
Oral History interview as the Mosquito begins its 30th anniversary celebration
A newspaper for Carlisle: "All the news to print, we fit" Mosquito co-founder Bonnie Miskolczy talks about the beginnings of the newspaper
The year was 1972. The war in Vietnam was going badly; the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional; President Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China; five men broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex; and 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Arab terrorists at the Munich Olympics.
Closer to home, Carlisle was in the throes of major change. The town's population, at about 3,000, had nearly doubled in ten years. The conservation commission (ConsCom) was acquiring parcels of land that would become Towle Field, and the post office had just moved to its temporary home in the old Congregational Church. Two full-time and four part-time police officers doubled the police force, and the police department moved out of Chief Herb Bates's house into larger space at the library. Added to this upheaval was a lengthy, heated battle among residents over the location of the town dump. Against this turbulent backdrop, Carlisle's first newspaper was launched, the inspiration of one person, Bonnie Miskolczy. "The whole town was in turmoil," she recalls, "which set the stage for my coming up with the idea of a paper."
Dump divides the town
Miskolczy was an ardent and experienced conservationist who plunged into community life. She worked hard to persuade the town to buy Towle Field, and was then appointed to the ConsCom. In 1970-71, a conservation issue obsessed the town where to relocate the messy, rat-infested town dump, which had outgrown its site on Morse Road. After much study, the selectmen proposed a new site on Maple Street, but "I thought it was the worst idea in the world," says Miskolczy. "It's an aquifer; it's gravel, and water goes right through to Greenough Pond. And that includes acid rain that pollutes." She and two other ConsCom members took a minority position on the Maple Street site; the plan was rejected at Town Meeting in 1971, but a committee was appointed to study the problem. Meetings were held all over town in public and in private to try to find a solution to the issue that was splitting the town.
Miskolczy's friends, Kay Kulmala and Skip Anderegg, were on the long-term capital requirements committee and one evening invited her to a meeting to brainstorm about the dump crisis. In the middle of the meeting, Miskolczy says, "I just came up with the idea: 'Why don't we have a newspaper?' It just popped out! It would be a way for people to air their concerns, share their ideas." The reaction? "Fine, you do it!"
Miskolczy did it, and Kulmala and Anderegg were part of the enterprise from the start. Until then, the only source of local news for Carlisleans had been the Concord Journal and the Lowell Sun through reports filed by town correspondents. Miskolczy's original idea was to recruit English teachers and students at the Carlisle School to work on the paper, but the teachers were unenthusiastic, believing that the students "weren't up to it." But Miskolczy persisted. She and Skip Anderegg put together a volunteer team of townspeople, as well as students who could create drawings.
A paper is born
After more than a year of laying the groundwork, volume one, number one of a yet-unnamed newspaper for Carlisle was launched on August 2, 1972. (By this time, the dump crisis, fortunately, had just ended. A Special Town Meeting in June 1972 approved funds for the design of the current transfer station at the original site on Morse Road. The whole town breathed a sigh of relief.) The newspaper, initially financed by the Miskolczys, was mimeographed in the basement of the parsonage of the First Religious Society, and then, as now, was delivered free to all Carlisle households and post office boxes. It was published every two weeks, except during school vacations. Eventually the paper was funded by donations from townspeople and advertising, but the work continued to be done by volunteers. "We developed a mission statement and announced a contest to name the paper," says Miskolczy. "It was all very naive, very much fun." But on the serious side, the paper's founding principles were sound and carry over to this day: free delivery to all; access for all with all ideas valued; better information for townspeople/voters; participation of all ages with a goal of promoting community; and accurate, dependable news coverage.
The naming contest was hugely successful, with over 100 names submitted by residents. Miskolczy and her team chose several and "auditioned" them in several issues. "The Conquered Journal," "The Hoot Owl Times," and the no-nonsense "The Carlisle Paper" were among the runners-up to the winner, "The Mosquito," proposed by Kathy Coyle who is still on the staff of the current Carlisle Mosquito. (Her award was a $10 gift certificate to the Carlisle Bakery.) The new name appeared in the December 6, 1972 issue along with the paper's motto, "All the news to print, we fit."
In due course, the Mosquito set up bylaws, developed an advertising policy, and applied for non-profit status. In December 1972, the newspaper's board, Carlisle Communications, Inc., was incorporated by the Miskolczys, Hope and John Anderegg, Sandra Scott, Norma and Dell Glover, Carole and David Presberg, Rochelle Caney and Kathleen Coyle.
The Mosquito was far from an overnight sensation, however. "In the beginning, older residents were very skeptical [about the paper]," Miskolczy remembers. "Newcomers were viewed as carpetbaggers." She adds, "Gabor and I were known Democrats in a Republican town; we were activists and residents had all sorts of reasons not to trust us and trust our efforts. That made us bend over backwards even more to balance everything and bring every idea forward."
Protests at the Superette
Miskolczy points out that the social and political climate in Carlisle thirty years ago was very different from today. "People were very polite, very hidden about how they really felt about things." Townspeople did not write letters to the editor to express their views. Instead, they stood outside the Superette, the precursor of Daisy's, to promote ideas and advance their politics. The few Vietnam War protesters in town, like the Miskolczys and some of their friends, were viewed with suspicion. When they held a candlelight vigil outside the Superette to protest the war, "absolutely no one signed our petition." But Miskolczy remembers one resident with affection. "Mrs. Cora Conant, who was then in her nineties, lived across the street from the Superette. She was responsible for getting kindergarten in Carlisle passed at Town Meeting. She stopped by, listened to us and took brochures. Then she looked at me and said, 'Now, my dear, I have a bit of advice for you. When you're doing something like this, always wear a hat!'" Mrs. Conant was, of course, wearing a hat. "Her sound advice was that by doing those things that were proper, you gain trust," says Miskolczy, who did not start wearing hats, although Gabor was known to sport a straw bowler from time to time.
The Carlisle Gazette
Gradually, the Mosquito did become an integral part of Carlisle life, while Miskolczy remained steadfast in her original goal of bringing in every opinion. Volunteers worked long hours and Carlisle students continued to provide drawings, under the guidance of Ellen Huber, who became the Mosquito's photographer.
In September 1975, Marty Nestor started a weekly newspaper, The Carlisle Gazette, a more professional-appearing, subscriber-based paper modeled after the Harvard Post. Contrasting sharply with the Mosquito, the Gazette was tabloid-sized, typeset and printed, and its goals included "to connect the different parts of Carlisle . . . with its neighbors, [and] with the cultural life and recreation in surrounding towns." The two papers gave residents more opportunities to express their views, but finding enough staff and reporters to keep two newspapers afloat in a small town was an ongoing problem. Not surprisingly, the solution was a merger of the two papers, in 1983, when the board of Carlisle Communications, Inc., after lengthy negotiations, bought the Carlisle Gazette. The merged paper retained the principles that Miskolczy had established for the Mosquito non-profit, access to all, weekly publication, free town-wide distribution with the more professional look and feel introduced by the Carlisle Gazette. Staff and reporters were given the choice of volunteering or being paid a small salary, and children held work parties to fold the paper. Following Carlisle tradition, a town-wide contest was held to name the new paper it became the Carlisle Mosquito in November 1983, operating under the aegis of Carlisle Communications, Inc. and supported by advertisements and donations.
With the merger came the need for more space. For a few years the paper bounced around town in rented space the back of the old Congregational Church, now the Hensleighs' house; the basement of St. Irene Church; and then to a longer-term office in the converted garage of Mary Diment's house on South Street. Diment had been the Carlisle reporter for the Concord Journal for many years before the Mosquito was founded, and was a Mosquito staff member before becoming its landlady.
Miskolczy remained a Carlisle Mosquito editor until 1986 and today reflects with well-deserved pride on her "brainchild." "The paper was a bizarre success," she comments with some amazement. "We were always trying to improve; we knew we were full of flaws. But this was a wonderful way for people to become part of the community. Some people who started as reporters became members of town boards. We trained lots of town officials." At the height of the all-volunteer paper, eighty people, mostly women, were involved in putting out the Mosquito. "We worked well together, but we did have battles about how things got done," she notes candidly.
This "bizarre success" continues today, as the Carlisle Mosquito prepares to observe its thirtieth anniversary. The paper provides a social history of Carlisle over the past three decades and has chronicled the rapid growth of a small town attempting to hold on to its rural character while grappling with land acquisitions, housing issues, school expansion, budget constraints and conservation concerns.
This Saturday, April 6, the town will turn out for the annual Mosquito Trash Party. This, too, is Bonnie Miskolczy's legacy. Early on at the Mosquito, she came up with the idea of a trash party, another way for the paper to fill a need and promote the idea of community. She and Norma Glover, who was then on the school committee, organized volunteers for what became a "real party," says Miskolczy. "I baked huge batches of gingerbread, bought cider, packed them into my car along with a first-aid kit, and we traveled around to all the neighborhoods, dispensing goodies."
Today most other small newspapers have been swallowed up by publishing conglomerates and are most assuredly for-profit. The Carlisle Mosquito may be unique in remaining a local, independent, non-profit weekly newspaper and still going strong thirty-six years after Bonnie and Gabor Miskolczy's bucolic picnic on Towle Field.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito