The summer after junior year is when many UR students hope they will find a great internship. Others take an alternative route, preferring to head back to the old painting and babysitting jobs.
Juniors may want to follow the lead of UR alum Dan Rattiner ’61, who, well, started a newspaper before his senior year. Five-thousand copies of the Montauk Pioneer Rattiner’s brainchild rolled off the hot type in the early hours of July 1, 1960. By 2009, when Rattiner sold Dan’s Papers and its staff of roughly 50 to a Cincinnati-based publisher the satirical, light-hearted community newspaper of the Hamptons, in Long Island, New York had blossomed into a community centerpiece known for its famous hoaxes and friendly style of reporting. For Rattiner, 50 years in the business brings back a very vivid memory and a bit of unexpected celebrity.
The one-man show. During winter break of his junior year, Rattiner put together a dummy of what the paper would look like. Rattiner’s passion for journalism stemmed from his high school days, where he was a columnist for his school’s paper. But Rattiner’s friendly, unique style of news writing originated in part to his steep disagreement with his high school journalism teacher.
‘He said that when you are writing a newspaper story you want to have the most important facts first,” Rattiner recalled. ‘I said that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s why newspapers aren’t interesting, they are all written in this same style.”
At first, Rattiner’s primary focus was the tourists of Montauk, and the tone of the paper was meant to dispell any anxiety that tourists may have about visiting such a strange place for the first time.
‘I thought that if you write articles that are just so friendly and welcoming, then it’s written in a tone that’s reassuring and that people can recognize as their owns,” he said.
But Rattiner had another motive, too. The town of Montauk didn’t have a newspaper and its people read the paper from nearby East Hampton. The East Hampton paper was killing Montauk.
‘Montauk needed somebody to get up on a box and stand up for it,” Rattiner said.
Armed with a friendly philosophy and an intent to focus on history, interviews, satire and the community, Rattiner pitched his idea to the local merchants in Montauk to purchase advertisements.
A successful first summer turned the newspaper into a regular summer gig and continued for nearly 15 years, with Rattiner writing almost everything back then.
‘I did everything else by myself for six summers,” Rattiner said. ‘In the summer of ’67 I had to hire somebody because I couldn’t do it all anymore. I remember I was pretty resentful.”
Wall Street hot shots and celebrities. When the Montauk Pioneer hit the newsstands in 1960, the community was made up of mainly tourists and a few local people. But as Dan’s business publishing ventures grew into Dan’s Papers, now the community newspaper for the Hamptons, the community changed in the Hamptons. Broadway casts began frequenting the area. Then in the early “80’s, Reaganomics kicked in, slashing the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans and giving Wall Street bankers a little more cash to spend. They began buying vacation homes and houses out in the Hamptons, and began picking up Dan’s Papers.
‘Beginning around 1985, we began publishing a weekly feature called “Who’s Here’,” he said. ‘I found that most people who became celebrities were very smart and had an aura about them of friendliness.”
A community paper takes community action. As a local paper, Dan’s Papers had a grip on everything that was happening around town. Local events and community preservation were very important. So when Rattiner documented the erosion near the Montauk Lighthouse and the cliff it sat on in the late ’60s, he was told that the lighthouse would be abandoned.
‘The newspaper held demonstrations and we got thousands of people to come out to the lighthouse,” he said. ‘Finally, the Coast Guard [who owned the lighthouse at the time] relented and were real gentlemen and gave me an award for saving the lighthouse.”
A go-to guy. For Rattiner, 50 years at the helm of one of the most popular community publications gave him an intimate knowledge of the area.
‘I knew more about the Hamptons going back to 1960 then almost anybody alive,” he said. ‘If some town supervisor decided to put a committee together to create some new entity, it could occur to me that this was done 10 or 15 years ago and it was a terrible mistake. Then I would write about it, and it would alter the course of things.”
The future. Throughout his career, Rattiner bought and sold several publications in the Hamptons area of Long Island. When Dan’s Papers were sold in 2007, he had two publications, the Montauk Pioneer and Dan’s Papers, which covered the Hamptons. Rattinner will continue to write stories as long as he thinks he’s good at it. The future of the newspaper industry is a little less clear, with the increasing amount of people getting their information online. But there was one thing Rattiner was clear about.
‘I think that the future there is a continued need for a newspaper to be a champion for the community.”
Willis is a member of the class of 2011.