Cheers to 21 years

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First Posted: 10/31/2014

When Jim McDonald of Dallas launched Weekender in November, 1993, people said it would never succeed. “A lot of people said it wouldn’t work,” reminisced McDonald. “Many people said the area wasn’t ready for it.”

Ready or not, Weekender went balls to the wall when it hit newsstands and has been pushing the limits for the past 21 years.

The mission of Weekender was not necessarily to provide shock-value to an intermittent community, but instead to serve as a print demonstration to align the area with what was going on in the rest of the world – an objective that was ultimately self-deprecating for McDonald.

“The market was really behind the times. The concept of an entertainment weekly had been successful in bigger cities, but when we launched one locally, Weekender was considered too progressive,” McDonald said.

Though McDonald was only in his twenties when he launched the pioneering entertainment weekly of the region, the Weekender creator was prepared for the challenge, having been raised in the newspaper magazine industry.

“My parents owned [the now defunct] McDonald News. I grew up around print media and wanted to create an entertainment environment in print that would bring the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton regions together,” McDonald said.

At the time, no print media had been successful combining readership from both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, according to McDonald. That was a deed only accomplished by television and radio – until Weekender came along.

“We really pushed the limits when we started. We interviewed strippers putting themselves through a Catholic college with the money they earned. We jumped out of a plane for a story on skydiving. We even put a guy wearing a giant condom on the cover. We were unconventional,” McDonald said.

One of the most memorable nonconforming stunts in McDonald’s four-year reign at Weekender was actually unplanned. When a photo ran of a model posed sitting on a Korean War monument, shit hit the fan.

“People were outraged. We meant no disrespect to veterans of the Korean War. My father is a veteran. We didn’t even realize. The incident was covered on all three local TV news outlets. People were even threatening to come outside and picket the Times Leader building,” McDonald said.

That’s when people really started paying attention and reading Weekender, according to McDonald.

Former Weekender editor and general manager Kristie Grier Ceruti of Old Forge remembers the early days of the paper fondly.

“Every week, people were waiting to see who or what would be on the cover. At the time, there was nothing like Weekender in the area, so the content from Model of the Week to the ads for adult venues definitely garnered attention,” Ceruti said.

The reaction from readers meant advertisers knew their businesses would collect attention said Ceruti.

Adeline “Cookie” Smith of Loughlin has been advertising her Nantikoke business, Tommy Boy’s Bar & Grill, in Weekender for the past five years because feels a spot in Weekender is extra money in her pocket.

“People in the area tend to reach out for the Weekender. It has the reputation as being the guiding light when it comes to planning their nights out,” Smith said.

A conservative by nature, Smith doesn’t mind the content in the Weekender, even when it seems to be pushing the limits.

“I don’t always have to agree with something. I’m usually pretty conservative. However, I’m open-minded enough to respect something when it’s tastefully done. I think Weekender has helped most people realize things they don’t agree with aren’t necessarily that bad when they’re told in a tasteful manner. That’s part of the reason Weekender is my go-to source for entertainment in the area,” Smith said.

When Kristie Grier Ceruti was awarded the editor position in 2000, she was encouraged to increase female readership and reposition Weekender to a wider audience. She went on to add Man of the Week, Show us Your Ink and reviews for movies, books and food to the Weekender pages. Ceruti also added a never ending array of contests.

“I have no bad memories from my time at the Weekender. I loved every second of it. One of the most vivid memories for me was the launch of the Summer Deck Series, where Weekender visited a dozen bars throughout the summer and hosted hula hoop, limbo and pass the fruit contests with concert tickets as the prizes,” Ceruti said.

Everyone from the full-time staff to the freelancers, ate, slept and breathed Weekender, according to Ceruti. That dedication is what helped Weekender develop its strong foothold in NEPA, Ceruti said.

Joe Student of West Hazleton was promoted to the role of editor in 2004, when Ceruti became Weekender general manager.

“Kristie Grier [Ceruti] created a very special culture that made the staff function as a team, which is incredibly unique in the media industry. I have made friendships at Weekender that have lasted more than a decade past my work tenure,” Student said.

That unique bond between the staff transcended to the pages of Weekender. Student brought to mind moments such as the time the entire Weekender staff danced on the street corner at Scranton’s Parade Day and when the graphic designer dressed up in a pink bunny suit for a Christmas cover mimicking “A Christmas Story”, where he walked around downtown Kingston carrying a rifle while a staff photographer followed him – something Student realizes would probably not happen today without police interruption. The more fun the staff had creating the paper each week, the more united the readership was – whether they agreed with what was printed or not.

“We pissed people off. I wasn’t part of the first Weekender staff to do it and I won’t be the last,” Student said.

One issue in particular that Student recalled stimulating displeasure among readers featured a cover story detailing what it was like to be gay in northeastern Pennsylvania. There were men who outwardly voiced that they wouldn’t pick up the issue that said ‘Gay in NEPA’ on it, Student said.

“We never tried to be controversial. That approach just sucks. The subject matter of some stories just angered the more conservative segments of readership. You are only as solvent as your audience. The more things that you can introduce to them, the more interesting you are to them,” Student said.

Apart from innovative topics, Jim McDonald said Weekender was commenced to encourage its readers to learn how to laugh at themselves.

“We would do huge model searches at bars and ask them questions. We wouldn’t ask them serious questions. We’d ask them ridiculous questions, like ‘What is your favorite body part?’ I remember sitting in Grotto Pizza once and watching a guy shaking his head and laughing, telling his wife he couldn’t believe we actually asked a model one of those questions. It was important from day one to make our readers laugh. It was important to make our readers learn how to laugh at themselves,” McDonald said.

To this day, McDonald avows that his time creating and working at Weekender is the most fun he has ever experienced at a job.

More than two decades since the first issue, the staff may have been adjusted, but Weekender’s mission to bring NEPA together and have a dialogue about what is going in the world – and region – has not been modified.

“I’m very proud of what was created. All these years later, I’m proud that Weekender is still going,” Jim McDonald said.

As Weekender gets ready to celebrate its 21st birthday at Stir Nightclub and Bar in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, Nov. 21, we invite our readers to celebrate with us as we kick it old school for a 90s-themed party that will be hella phat. Pick up Weekender leading up to the event for more 4-1-1 on the celebration.

Now that Weekender is truly legal, there’s no saying what will be printed next…