Matthew Scott Moore

Rochester Free Press
Rochester, N.Y., Monday, June 5, 1995

MSM Productions comes to the rescue
of a newspaper publisher in distress

A faded fax, a clipping from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and a yellowing copy of the June 5, 1995 edition of the Rochester Free Press are mementos of a crisis involving a desperate newspaper publisher and how the DEAF LIFE team came to his rescue. What an adventure that was!

Daniel Bonis launched the Free Press on April 7, 1995, as an alternative to the Gannett dailies, the Democrat and Chronicle and the now-defunct Times-Union. A reporter who worked briefly at the Free Press described it as “a daily broadsheet newspaper with emphasis on hard news and political commentary.” It had a conservative orientation.

Charles Bancroft, DEAF LIFE's Production Manager and technical wizard, held a full-time job at a graphics firm in downtown Rochester. One of the clients he dealt with was Jim Bonis, Daniel’s brother. Charles also patronized a small barbershop in Marketplace Mall near the USPS mail drop where he and Matthew picked up their company’s mail; Lisa Bonis, Daniel’s wife, was Charles’ barber. So the Bonis family knew something of Charles and his company.

On Friday afternoon, June 2, 1995, Charles received an extraordinary fax from Daniel Bonis. Fifteen Free Press staffers had walked out on Thursday. (Bonis assumed that they had all quit, although 7 or 8 tried to return to work the following Monday.) Before leaving, they had effectively “torn down” all the electronic equipment—they unplugged and disconnected the computers, monitors, and scanners, removed all cards from their motherboards, and trashed software applications. Matters were indeed “in disarray.”

After receiving Bonis’s fax, Charles hurried over. Seeing the chaotic mess that had been made of the equipment, he contacted Ed Cantrell, an old NTID Printing Department classmate of his, who had good technical skills and was a whiz at putting disconnected equipment together fast. Ed duly arrived, and while he and Charles reconnected the equipment, Matthew counseled Daniel on what to do. Charles recalls that they got every card back into place, except for one scanner. One of the tiny pins on the card was bent out of shape, and he used a tweezers to straighten it. It worked! All of the applications had to be reinstalled. Charles was stymied by one machine that received AP wires, since he had never worked with anything like it before. He proceeded intuitively, and got it restarted. After Charles rebooted the equipment, Ed helped prepare the layout for Monday morning’s edition. Daniel hired Ed on the spot as his new technical guy. Together, they all got the newspaper up and running again.

With his three remaining editors, Bonis was able to publish a truncated edition of the Free Press (12 pages instead of the usual 20) on Monday, June 5.

After the Fourth of July weekend, Ed recounts, a prospective buyer met with Daniel. And the Free Press was sold to a new owner who moved the office from the 13th floor of the Temple Building in downtown Rochester to Canandaigua (outside Rochester). Some staffers were laid off immediately. Those who remained were compelled to commute to the new location. Ed had already moved from Henrietta (Rochester’s south suburb) to the city to make traveling to work easier. Since he refused to relocate to the new office, his employment was terminated. There was some friction between Daniel and the new owner. According to Ed, “the sale was botched.” Daniel didn’t receive the proceeds due him. After learning that he hadn’t received any money for his equipment, Daniel retrieved it from the Temple Building office (“except for the AP-wire equipment and photo-scanner, plus [the stuff] in the closet”), and didn’t pursue legal action. He quarreled with the new owner in Canandaigua regarding the paychecks still due to the staffers. Ed never received his final paychecks (two or three of them), and after being repeatedly rebuffed by the new owner, reported the situation to the Department of Labor. “I was told that I might not be able to recover my lost wages. Rochester Free Press folded a few days after I spotted the first paper [published in] August [1995]. I guess the Department of Labor busted them and shut them down.”

“When I learned that Daniel had sold his business, I asked him why,” Ed recalls. “I told him that he made a huge mistake. He admitted that he made a mistake—big time!”

Factual details on the demise of the Free Press, at least those that can be gleaned from Web postings, are scanty. Shortly after Daniel sold it to the new owner, according to industry insiders, it folded quietly. “It just disappeared,” Tom Callinan, News Editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, said in an October 1995 interview posted on the Internet. “It never got off the ground.” According to Callinan, the Free Press had had difficulty lining up sellers and advertisers—not an unusual situation for a new alternative paper. Callinan didn’t say anything about disputes involving lost wages or financial improprieties. He may not have been aware of that angle.

Bonis’s fax is at the top, followed by John Hand’s writeup in the Democrat and Chronicle. At the bottom is the “emergency” edition that Ed and the DEAF LIFE team helped publish.

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