An interview with Weekly World News Editor-In-Chief Greg D’Alessandro
Contributions by Jennifer Precious Finch, Suzi Gardner, Theo Kogan, Matt Saincome, Larry Schemel, and Bloodshot Bill.
“The sort of “thumb-your-nose” aspect of Weekly World News melds well with punk rock. Having a more “base” sense of humor. I can’t think of anything more punk than wearing a WWN cover t-shirt to a gig. Punk Rock lyrics often point to what a sham and mockery some situations of daily life are, like the Subhumans from Canada, a song called “Slave To My Dick,” or L7’s “Wargasm.” (Suzi Gardner – Guitarist/Vocalist/Songwriter – L7)
You would think the first print issue in 15 years of one of America’s most bizarre and mass distributed publications, Weekly World News (WWN for short), couldn’t have come at a more opportune time in Fall 2020 while the nation was in the throes of the drama surrounding the US Election amidst a global pandemic. The only thing keeping all those events from becoming a full-fledged storyline ripped straight from the paper’s universe was Moses resurrecting to combat the pandemic himself. As for extraterrestrial involvement in the US Election? The jury’s still out on this, depending on whom you ask.
The world has become a stranger place since the black and white newspaper, which blends satire, supernatural occurrences, Elvis sightings, and investigative journalism, initially ceased print in 2007. The print relaunch does not mean Weekly World News ever went away entirely. From 1979 – 2007, the newspaper held a peak circulation of over 1.2 million copies moved a week and was a regular sighting both in newsstand and in grocery store checkout lanes until moving exclusively online in 2008. Their reporting verged on the fringe and grandiose with stories that were either bold enough to make your eyes roll in disbelief and dismiss the paper altogether or read it from cover to cover for just the sake of entertainment and asking yourself if there’s some truth to these claims. News? Ruse? Prank? There was never any persuasion in a WWN article; the editorial’s direction leaves the reader to base their judgment. Sometimes, this carried consequences for WWN’s intended targets, like a 2012 report they ran about Mark Zuckerberg announcing the shutdown of Facebook, in turn, causing Facebook to have to issue a press release to refute the claims. Even Fox News was getting embarrassed for falling for a WWN story in 2010 about the LAPD purchasing 10,000 jetpacks for the police force at the cost of a billion dollars. LAPD Chief-of-Police, Charlie Beck, had to refute the claim publicly.
With the macro-events of 2020 and all the reactions, whatever side of the political spectrum, the new WWN editorial certainly has its work cut out for itself. Montrealer one-man band and long-time reader of Weekly World News, Bloodshot Bill, frankly summarizes where WWN stands in today’s times “The job of the tabloid is to go beyond the absurdness of reality, while somehow being based in it. No matter how crazy real life gets, there will always be room for Weekly World News. Those who don’t chuckle at their stuff must be pretty uptight and not someone I’d want to be friends with!”
The outlandish headlines of WWN fell nothing short of grabbing attention with such ones as Crash Diet Makes Wife Kill Hubby!, The Face of Satan Seen Over US Capitol!, World’s Fattest Cat Gets Buff! and many others displayed in the grocery store checkout line’s lower rungs amongst the highbrow gloss of The Oprah Magazine and various Hollywood gossip rags. Another aesthetic consistent with their brand throughout the years is the rudimentary graphics of folklore cryptids, aliens mingling with world leaders, Elvis sightings across America, de facto mascot Bat Boy, and the next modern-day biblical and Nostradamus prophecies.
Generation X and the millennial generation came of age or grew up during WWN’s prime. This new reintroduction period is THE opportune time for the brand to introduce itself to a new generation of readers who were already immersed in satire and alternative publications who missed the boat with WWN the first time around. These days, Reductress and The Onion are the familiar names in the satire game with content that leans towards the college-educated, left-of-center crowd. Weekly World News and The Hard Times are the catalyst publications for those immersed in alternative culture, especially punk rock. Look at each cover of WWN. The similarity between that and a punk gig poster or a record sleeve became apparent via simple black and white graphics, cheap aesthetic, and the pop-out shock copy that wrapped the wild stories that lay inside each issue. Larry Schemel (guitarist/songwriter – Death Valley Girls) expands upon this further from his own experience growing up discovering the paper, “The parallels between punk rock culture & Weekly World News universe were pretty apparent to me when I first discovered the paper on the newsstand at the grocery store. You have bizarre & weird stories, shock value, absurdist humor, the focus on paranormal phenomena, tales of the supernatural, UFO news stories & crypto creatures like Bigfoot, Mothman &, of course, Bat Boy. All that serves similar inspiration as punks pushing the envelope, being pranksters, and acting as an alternative to the “normal” mainstream papers and magazines, to be as outrageous as possible.”
When asked the same question, Matt Saincome (co-founder – The Hard Times) keeps his response short and to the point, “We both make up our own worlds that everyone else thinks is nonsense.” Theo Kogan (Singer/Songwriter- Lunachicks) recognizes the impact WWN had had on today’s internet culture, “It does seem like the meme culture has its roots in the headlines and covers of Weekly World News, the idea of one image and headline that grabs your attention and gets an immediate reaction kind of sums up a lot of what we see on social media.”
2021 marks 42 years of Weekly World News. If it weren’t for National Inquirer head chief, Genoroso Pope Jr’s economic thinking in 1970 on how to continue utilizing the Inquirer’s old black and white printing presses after moving the Inquirer to colorized printing, Weekly World News wouldn’t be around, a few people would have lost jobs, nor would some of the cultural references today exist. Two examples include the songs “Dear Dotti” by New York’s Lunachicks or “Bite The Wax Tadpole” by Los Angeles’s L7. “Dear Dotti,” a track from Lunachick’s 1997 Pretty Ugly album, has singer Theo Kogan’s lyrics alternating between advice-seeking WWN reader telling life and love woes to WWN’s tough love giving advice columnist, Dottie Primrose, and Primrose’s brutally honest responses to the reader’s woes. Kogan’s quick to the point that she’s a big fan of the long-standing column, “Dear Dottie was such a brazen, hilarious, no bullshit, toughest-love advice columnist we had ever seen and because of that, we couldn’t NOT write a song inspired by her!” Jennifer Precious Finch (singer/songwriter/bassist – L7, The Shocker, Otherstarpeople), a reader of Weekly World News, compares Primrose’s columns to a therapy session when asked to comment, “they are practically the same thing, only Primrose is less expensive and more effective.”
Suzi Gardner points out that “Bite The Wax Tadpole,” the kick-off track from L7’s eponymous debut L.P. on Epitaph Records, was inspired by a report she read in an issue during the graveyard shift at a Hollywood taxi cab dispatch service. “That song was inspired by a Weekly World News article about “Coca-cola being introduced to China and “co-ca-co-la” literally translated in Chinese means “Bite the wax tadpole.” “Now that’s crazy-sounding,” I thought. WWN— Perfect song fodder! We even used the name for Wax Tadpole Records to release Slap-Happy when we left our major label. Space aliens are stealing our frogs is something we used to scream at each other while on tour too,” Gardner reminisces. When asked to identify the similarities between punk rock culture and Weekly World News, Gardner’s matter-of-fact response is “Bat Boy, hello!” Bat Boy, the bug-eyed, half-human/half-bat iconic mascot of Weekly World News, is the only character in the universe who made a name for itself separate from the universe of Weekly World News. He’s an outcast, constantly being run out of town or pursued for exploitative use or tangled up in a left-field love affair with humans and cryptids alike; Bat Boy wants to be accepted. Initially conceived by recently passed Weekly World News art director Dick Kulpa, the West Virginia mutant’s adventurous life spans thousands of Weekly World News stories from his time running from the police to being recruited into the U.S. military to be used in the War on Terror, to forming a rock band, and running for president (and king!) of the United States. Bat-Boy’s debut in 1992 is the second best-selling issue in Weekly World News history. His eclectic storyline has pushed him out of the confines of the tabloid and into his comic book line and even an off-Broadway play production that’s hit Los Angeles, New York, and London, as well as many colleges in the U.S.
Another iconic character closely associated with the tabloid, who has taken on a life of his own over the years, is the right-wing pundit, Ed Anger. Anger’s unabashed columns usually begin with a blatant, outrageous claim ala “ I’m pig biting mad about!…” followed by an unabashed critique of his perceived societal transgressions, Democratic presidential administrations, Texas vanity license plates, the lack of felony-level punishments for misdemeanors, and juvenile violations, and other ills he sees in the world. While Anger’s flaring columns have always been on the side of generating shock value as the sole goal, Greg D’Alessandro (WWN Editor-In-Chief/CEO) acknowledges the atmosphere of the times and how some new readers might perceive the character as an actual human being given all the polarizing talking heads in the media. “Ed is one of the more popular characters in our universe. Ed Anger was created by one of our slightly left-of-center writers who was satirizing Rush Limbaugh. Over the years, there were crazy Ed Anger articles about paving over the rain forests and giving stun guns to teachers to control children in school, just really over the top stuff! However, Ed Anger became real with guys like Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, and Alex Jones coming on the scene. Ed Anger even influenced Stephen Colbert, who was parodying O’Reilly. Today, Ed Anger’s column doesn’t work like it used to because Ed’s crazy opinions feel real. So we’re pairing Ed with his daughter, Kim Anger. Ed Anger is 83 years old now, while Kim is in her 50s and as far left-wing as he is right-wing. She will counterbalance Ed’s extreme right-wing views. Both Anger family members are upset with many things going on today, so we have two polarized viewpoints going in together on topics. We’re working on a show where both Kim and Ed go out there as a team.”
D’Alessandro’s time with WWN spans 21 years and over 5,000 articles as a freelancer and Senior Editor with the brand. It’s a sensible move for the parent company, Spycat LLC, to install him as CEO/Editor-In-Chief with their new initiatives into new media coupled with D’Alessandro’s time with the paper and a 25-year background in screenwriting and as a playwright. Although this management level is new territory for him, D’Alessandro’s practicality and level head help him get by the day-to-day rigors of this job. He does, however, admit that the scale of his new responsibilities as the “showrunner” is the most demanding job he’s held (and that includes being an indie record label owner). “This is much more involved than I initially figured. It takes up 120% of my time as I juggle a lot of different jobs at WWN. But I’m pursuing this like a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond, as mythology legend Joseph Campbell would say. I’m crazy about this brand. All the hard work does not faze me because of my deep passion for it and because I am excited about bringing it to a new generation, making it better than ever.”
A new team of writers, D’Alessandro, has assembled from all backgrounds in music, movies, comedy, advertising, and high-level journalism. A talented unit working hard to the big goal he has set: introducing more of the younger generation to Weekly World News. D’Alessandro cites one of his current writers, who has become quite popular. “We have an investigative reporter named Cordelia Bunk who does our video interviews whose real name is Maya Knell. She’s a tremendous comic actress who works with The Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles and has the sensibility of her generation, which is starting to mirror the 1970s to a certain degree. An era where people began questioning everything, deconstructing everything. I think that worldview will always appeal to youth culture. “
When asked about how he will approach this with a newer audience, D’Alessandro reflects. “The entertainment and humor we create, we’re not going out there to deceive anybody. That’s what “fake news” has become over the last five years. That’s not us. We are here to entertain, and at times, inform. I had a great conversation with Bonnie [Bloomgarden – Singer/Guitarist of Death Valley Girls] on her podcast. I thought she was brilliant and love how her mind works, along with her thoughtfulness and her overall philosophy on art. I think the appeal of her band Death Valley Girls has on the younger generation will hopefully have the same effect on Weekly World News. I think that the younger generation will appreciate our brand of humor as an alternative to other comedy sources. The WWN sensibility and imagination have begun to resonate with younger people. They seem to get it. We play everything straight, with no winking or nodding to the audience. We are, of course, “the world’s most reliable news.” Young people connect to the humor because it isn’t on the nose, trying to be funny. We are investigative reporters, after all. We cover stories and raise questions that no other media outlet does. “What if there is a Manigator or Bat Boy out there? Who says they aren’t? We want to open minds to the possibility of a world behind the world.”
Among his top priorities for WWN, bringing the publication back into print is one. They are also pursuing multiple deals for movies, podcasting, gaming, and television (a short-lived WWN series broadcasted on USA Network lasted one season with veteran journalist Edwin Newman as host). D’Alessandro confirms there are deals in discussions with Warner Brothers, Paramount, and two independent production companies to bring Bat Boy and the other 300+ characters of the Weekly World News universe to streaming services, including a comprehensive documentary of the brand’s long history.
However, having experienced the rungs of the slow-moving deal-making process of Hollywood before, D’Alessandro and veteran theater producer Joe Corcoran created Weekly World News Studios. They plan to use this division for in-house development and production of media projects and have already completed and announced the first WWN movie production entitled Zombie Wedding, directed by Tony award-winning actress Tonya Pinkins.
The story of Weekly World News has strong parallels the punk aesthetic: born out of economics as an alternative to current trends, crude design aesthetic creating its identity, over the top stories and brazen stories, editorial bucking trends along with ingraining itself into the American pop culture psyche, and seeing a rebirth today among the new generation of the disenfranchised and weirdos. D’Alessandro concurs the same feelings as he reflects upon his long-time and deep passion for the brand, “I think it’s a more anti-establishment and anti-mainstream culture that is appealing to punk rock and Weekly World News. There’s also a sense of rawness to both, with the energy and power of punk music and the very imaginative Weekly World News stories about mythical beasts, cryptids, and other ideas that question what’s real and what isn’t. Punk music is a reaction against the candy-coated rock music of the era; Weekly World News kept printing in black and white when every publication in the late 1970s and 1980s was going into color; we both went against the grain. We’re for outcasts and outsiders. Another way to view the parallels of the two is looking at each one through a postmodern lens, punk deconstructed music, and WWN deconstructed media and tabloids. Interestingly, there is a crossover between the birth of Weekly World News (1979) and the coming of age of punk rock in the late 1970s. There’s a Henry Rollins quote about punk rock that sums up Weekly World News as well, “Questioning everything and anything, to me, is punk rock.” I think we have a good following in the punk world because we are simpatico; we have similar mindsets about life and art. Loud, bold, and full of passion.”
Whatever your feelings are with Weekly World News, a 42-year run is nothing to sneer about and is nothing short of impressive given all the adverse media and cultural conditions they have endured over the years. The punk world has clearly shown love for the Weekly World News, with Kogan elaborating on how much WWN impacted her early life, “Thank the baby with two heads that it is returning! The times we are in seem so surreal and sci-fi/post-apocalyptic-like; it makes you think the stuff they print could be true, and it is going to see to the crazies who maybe believe that shit is true. Either way, I am glad it is back, and the news headlines may be more believable than ever before!”
While mainstream news sources will always be the go-to for the matter-of-fact- news updates throughout the day, Weekly World News provides the other side of reality where you can look at the world in a wholly different manner. And WWN has been proven right many times. Case in point, this year, The Pentagon released reports confirming the existence of UFOs, which WWN has reported on for years. Many used to ridicule these WWN stories, calling them far-fetched, but now the US government agrees with WWN: Aliens DO exist!
It is anyone’s guess what WWN will predict next.
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