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The Cooperator
An Unofficial History of the Greenbelt News Review

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page 4 of 7

The Cooperator in its early years was essentially a newsletter, a little broadsheet carrying local gossip for a small number of people. The very headlines of the newspaper show how narrowly focussed on community affairs The Cooperator was: "Thanksgiving Dance Tonight," "Marshmallow Roast Held at Lake," and "Injured" ("Mr. Bernard Axelrod, 33 J Ridge Road, recently sustained severe burns on both arms").

The writing, too, was folksy and undistinguished; its charm lay in the evident enthusiasm of the writers in the Greenbelt experiment. Perhaps the only remarkable feature about The Cooperator was the scope of its coverage.

Anyone who has worked for a school newspaper knows the difficulty of covering all the events in even a small community. This is especially true when the reporters are volunteers; the editors usually cannot assign such reporters to a regular beat, but must instead depend on the individual interests of the writers. Rarely does any community newspaper, much less a volunteer paper, succeed in covering all aspects of community life.

And yet this is exactly what The Cooperator did. Out of its original 29 articles, 17 were news articles (as opposed to opinion pieces or notices of coming events), and they covered the following subjects: civic affairs, business, society, recreation (including clubs), schools, and religion. Later issues of The Cooperator covered regularly all of these news categories as well as sports and the arts. (One notable omission from this list was crime. There was none.)

In civic affairs alone, The Cooperator's journalists wrote in the first issue about media coverage of Greenbelt, a political rally, and the new city manager. But recreation and society news (the two subjects overlapped a great deal) was the great strength of the newspaper: readers of The Cooperator could read news about social gatherings such as the marshmallow roast, programs such as a lecture by an expert in home economic, clubs such as the Veterans Legion, children's groups such as the Girl Scouts, and individual gatherings in people's homes.

Only 19 staff members originally worked for The Cooperator (the News Review now has about 75 staff members), but the newspaper actively recruited articles from the community at large. "The Cooperator is drawing into its ranks competent talent from many sources," the newspaper reported in December 1, 1937. "We're not complaining, mind you, but we've yet to discover a reliable meteorologist in Greenbelt who will give a written guarantee with his weather report for such prognostications as he or she is willing to make."

Cooperator Typist

The Greenbelt News Review has drawn strength from the activist community surrounding it, but it has also had a major effect on events in the community. The newspaper's editor from 1977 to 1986, Elaine Skolnik, is among the staff writers who has influenced the community's life. An article written on the occasion of the News Review's sixtieth anniversary described her work.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Elaine honed her role as an investigative reporter. Prince George's County was adopting a new Master Plan for Greenbelt calling for high density development throughout the city. (The city has no zoning authority, a power that resides with the county government.) The County Commissioners, as they were called then, were not friendly to Greenbelt. "They thought we were a bunch of kooks," Elaine chuckles.

She recalls with relish how some people took off from work, and some women brought their infants, to attend the daytime meetings in Upper Marlboro. The citizens were activated. It was the News Review that galvanized their interest and support. Eventually, the County Commissioners relented. . . .

Very little of substance has occurred in Greenbelt politics or government over the last 43 years that Elaine Skolnik has not influenced. She has led many a zoning battle both through the printed page and from her kitchen phone. She became an expert on sewage during the battle over the waste-water treatment plant at Greenbriar, installed temporarily to overcome a moratorium on development then in effect. Developers were warmed by her motherly charm, then astonished to read in the pages of the News Review what they had unwittingly revealed. As staff member Dorothy Sucher puts it, "Elaine has a bulldog approach, but comes across as a sweet pussycat."

[Sandra Lange, "Remembering the Early Years News Review Editors Reminisce," Greenbelt News Review (November 20, 1997), 12.]

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