Column: We will not be silenced

MELANIE DROZD PHOTO | An empty newsstand at the 7-Eleven on Route 58 located in the same shopping center as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

My friend Paul had a pretty good idea when he heard about the folks who went from newsstand to newsstand buying thousands of copies of last week’s Riverhead News-Review and Suffolk Times.

“Why don’t you call them up,” he suggested, “and ask them how many more they’d like you to print.”

I’ve been in this business for 50 years and never have I experienced what we experienced this past week: a run on the newsstands by someone involved in a truly monumental school project; someone really proud of their grandchild on the honor roll; someone with a great deal of precious glassware to pack; or, as I suspect, someone intent on suppressing the dissemination of a particular news story.

Here, in her exact words, is the account provided by Times/Review circulation manager Laura Huber:

“They went all the way from Calverton to Shelter Island to get papers. We figure they started around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday because I received a call from a woman in Riverhead looking for a copy of our delivery manifest because she wanted to know where to get a paper in Riverhead. She claimed that she went to Riverhead 7-Eleven and that there weren’t any copies there. I didn’t give it to her, but told her where she could get them and the types of businesses that sold the paper. I also called the 7-Eleven and they informed me they had plenty of copies.

“Many of the newsstands said that people came in around 5 or 6 p.m. on Thursday, and we figure based on the fact that there were people buying copies on Shelter Island, Aquebogue and Flanders at around the same time that there were at least 2 to 3 teams out at one point.

“I had reports that there were at least two women and two men and they were still out Friday afternoon trying to buy up papers. Apparently what would happen is that two people would go in one car and if one was told they couldn’t buy everything, the other person would go in and try to buy up the rest.

“Initially the story the woman told was that she was trying to move, but I think that sounded suspicious so they switched to a ‘school project’ story. Many of the newsstands believed this story and were willing to give up the majority of their copies.

“One of their last stops was a bagel place in Calverton. I had previously called there to let them know that someone may come in claiming that they were purchasing copies for a school project, but that we believed that may not be the case. I told her in the interest of preservation for her regular customers, she may want to put copies aside and not sell everything to the buyer(s). This was about 1:00. Around 3:30 the woman showed up, attempting to buy all the copies. When she was told she couldn’t buy them all, she offered [to pay] above cover price for them.”

In a Monday update, Laura reported that we printed and distributed 3,000 extra Suffolk Times and 2,500 extra Riverhead News-Reviews prior to the weekend.

So now, dear reader, let us speculate as to who and what was behind this unprecedented run on newsstand copies of your local paper. Please select from one of the following:

A) Proud members of the 125-year-old Southold Fire Department.

B) Proud members of the Shoreham-Wading River varsity football team, which beat Greenport, 19-0.

C) Local political operatives concerned about the opposition’s attack ads.

D) Associates of the Riverhead doctor charged with Medicare fraud.

Alternatively, let’s see what stories appearing in both papers last week might have caused enough concern to prompt this buying frenzy. County accused of wrongfully diverting money from preservation fund? (As far as I know, none of the insatiable paper purchasers sported a Snidley Whiplash-style mustache.) Hey, look! Isn’t that Charles Barkley? (Doubtful.) Feds arrest Riverhead doc? (Hmmm.)

Until we review the security tapes from one of the 7-Elevens where these bulk purchases were made, this statement from Times/Review publisher Andrew Olsen must suffice:

“We do have our suspicions as to who is behind this and if it’s someone attempting to somehow silence our coverage or make an uncomfortable story go away, they’re wasting their time and their money. We will not be silenced.”

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