Corrections or additions?
This column by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the May 9, 2001
edition of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines: Town Topics
Hot off the presses! Read all about it! That’s the style
that a lot of newspaper publishers would employ to trumpet the news
of the sale of their newspaper after more than 54 years of successful
ownership by the same family. But that’s not how our good friends
at the Town Topics did it.
The Town Topics ran a simple little box on the front page of the May
2 edition, referring readers to a column on page 2 by the editor and
publisher, Jeb Stuart. The third paragraph laid out the reason for
the sale simply and directly: "It is not without regret, but the
time is right. When my wife, Sheila, and I began to run Town Topics
after my father’s death in April, 1981, we gave ourselves a timetable
of sorts. My father, at age 67, left his office to go to the hospital,
and was dead less than two weeks later of acute lymphomatic leukemia.
We vowed we would be out of here in time to do many of the things
we never had time for while running this newspaper."
The low-key announcement was typical of Town Topics. It is a no-frills
newspaper, delivered every Wednesday into the driveways and onto the
front porches of 12,000 or so homes in Princeton Borough and Township
and a few neighboring communities. It covers school board meetings,
zoning, planning boards, municipal government, high school sports,
recreation league softball, and the police blotter. It faithfully
reports the meetings of the garden club, and records births,
weddings, and obituaries — beginnings and endings.
While other papers, including U.S. 1, have myriad special issues,
Town Topics simply publishes one regular issue every week, 52 weeks
a year. The one exception: The paper’s 50th anniversary issue. While
other papers, including U.S. 1, splash four-color photographs across
their cover, Town Topics never has. While many other papers (but in
this case not U.S. 1) hire a succession of graphic designers to change
their look with the seasons, Town Topics today looks pretty much like
it did 20 years ago, or 40, for that matter. While every newspaper
in the world has classified ads that are in fact classified by
Town Topics classifieds are apparently thrown together randomly among
the real estate display ads in the back of the paper. The paper says
unclassified classifieds represent the "idea of finding a quarter
while looking for a dime."
In this day of dot.coms becoming dot.gones, one strange and
compliment for the Internet and one suggestion of its future strength
is that Town Topics — even Town Topics! — has a website:
It includes the text of recent issues, a few photographs, and a link
to its 50th anniversary issue. But don’t expect any frills, and
no fancy bells and whistles.
We at U.S. 1 have always been partial to Town Topics. Way back in
1973 or ’74, when our editor and publisher was just starting out as
a freelance writer, Town Topics offered him a part-time job,
for people on vacation or out sick and submitting occasional feature
stories. Not only was it a steady stream of income for young Rich
Rein, but it was also an insight into the operation of a small
publishing venture. Don Stuart, the founding editor and publisher
of the Topics (along with his brother-in-law Dan Coyle), was generous
with his payroll and his time. Until he met Don Stuart, Rein the
had never had a meaningful conversation with any publisher.
While U.S. 1 and the Town Topics compete for some of the same
dollars, the two papers serve largely different audiences. In fact,
the idea for U.S. 1 sprang from a Town Topics editorial meeting. In
1984 Rein, still a freelance writer and occasional contributor
to the Topics, suggested a story on the competition between the Hyatt
Regency and Scanticon (now Doral Forrestal) hotels for corporate
Noting that the Hyatt is located in West Windsor and Scanticon was
in Plainsboro, the Topics editors deemed that Rein’s idea was not
for them — it was not a Princeton story, it was a Route 1 story.
They were right.
By then Jeb Stuart was running Town Topics and he was as supportive
of Rein the young publisher as his father had been of the young
Some of U.S. 1’s early issues were typeset at Town Topics. U.S. 1
bought its first photo-typesetting machines from the Topics. And on
many occasions, when faced with important business decisions, U.S.
1 followed the Town Topics model.
Now we at U.S. 1 wish Jeb and Sheila Stuart a happy and healthy
And we offer best wishes to the new owners: Lynn Smith, who has worked
in ad sales at the paper for the past three years, her husband, Ken
Smith, a teacher at Princeton Day School, and J. Robert Hillier, the
The new owners’ challenges will be many: Retaining the loyal
deciding whether and how to integrate the Internet into its publishing
operation; and of course considering whether to classify those
Then there is the matter of graphic design. Bob Hillier, the
noted in an interview with the Princeton Packet — the paid
paper that covers Princeton and most of the other surrounding
— that he has "an interest in graphics." Whether or not
that translates into a major redesign is one matter; whether such
a redesign would ruin the "hometown" feel of the paper that
has existed since Hillier’s childhood is another matter.
Here at U.S. 1, where the paper is still run by its founder, the
of two elementary school-age children, the article on the Town Topics
sale brought to mind two engagement notices printed in the Topics
just a week earlier. Those notices were for the son and the daughter
of Jeb and Sheila Stuart. Either Craig Stuart, a 1992 Princeton
who worked for four years as a reporter in Thailand, or Lauren Stuart,
a 1993 University of Vermont alumna now in sales for Backroads Travel
Co., would seem to have the sense of adventure that would enable them
to become the third generation of Stuarts to run the Town Topics.
And certainly either one could have struck a most favorable deal with
their parents. But both have chosen other pursuits. All of which makes
us think: It must be an exhilarating feeling to buy a newspaper. But
it may be even more exhilarating to sell it.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.