a new era of Blurring the Lines Between Reality and Surreality, The Great Comeback of the Weekly World News!: An Interview with Editor-In-Chief/CEO Greg D’Alessandro
1979, the year of Ayatollah Khomeini, Sony introduced the Walkman, Michael Jackson released Off The Wall, and Ridley Scott launched a new era of space terror with Alien. That year, a few black and white printing presses in Montana were saved from obsolescence and given a new lease on life. Generoso Pope utilized the older equipment to print a sister publication to coincide with the newly colorized sensationalist tabloid, National Inquirer. Hollywood scandals will always be the Inquirer’s territory; this sister publication’s job is to report that space aliens influence US policy, and cryptids live among us. They could very well be your next-door neighbors.
The outrageous headlines, bold columns, and rudimentary graphics of Weekly World News left an undeniable impact on our pop culture that’s touched American politics, music, and movies. During the print years from 1979 - 2007, the lower rungs of a supermarket shelf and our newsstands was stacked with this tabloid filled with fictional stories about politically charged love triangles between extraterrestrials and the Clinton family, a half boy/half bat creature enlisting in the military to lead the hunt against Al Qaeda, Elvis sightings across Michigan, and Satan’s face emerging in the sky over various global disaster sites or randomly appearing in small towns like Waco, TX. The satire was in your face but also sometimes enough to blur the lines between people’s perceptions of what’s factual and what isn’t. In 2010, Fox News sourced a story from the tabloid as accurate regarding LAPD spending a billion dollars on 10,000 jetpacks for their force only for then LAPD Chief-of-Police, Charlie Beck, to publicly refute the claims. The following year, Facebook sent a press release in response to a Weekly World News article that influential technology blog, Mashable, inquired about the technology giant’s looming shut down.
Weekly World News left its mark in other aspects of the cultural media landscape, with character references featured in American Dad and Family Guy to influencing songs written by L7, Lunachicks, and even Weird Al Yankovic. After a period of dormancy in 2015, the Weekly World News has launched a comeback into print with the first issue in 15 years celebrating the tabloid’s iconic covers and is ushering in a new era of multimedia for the brand’s universe of character with the creation of Weekly World News Studios. We discussed the upcoming plans the new Editor-In-Chief/CEO, Greg D’Alessandro, has in store with Weekly World News and his long association with the brand starting as a freelancer to becoming the man in charge in 2019.
Give us a history lesson of your background. Where are you originally from and how did you initially discover the Weekly World News? What was it that drew you to the tabloid and eventually pursue an interest in writing for the paper?
I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in New Jersey, and majored in Theatre and Music at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. While in college, I became a playwright, and Notre Dame's theatre program turned one of my plays into a main stage production during my senior year. After graduating, I toured the world as a jazz musician playing for many people, and started a Jazz record label. Amidst all this music, I continued writing and moved back to New York, where I wrote plays produced off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, and I got into stand-up comedy. That was my life. As much as I enjoyed writing for theatre, I wanted to do more and was looking at attending either Yale's drama school or USC's film school. I sent off two applications, and both schools accepted me, but a conversation with playwright David Mamet convinced me to go to USC School of Cinematic Arts. Not only did I get an MFA there, and another MFA from UCLA School of Theatre Film, Television and ended up teaching at UCLA's Extension Program. At the same time, I was pitching projects as a screenwriter and TV writer. One company I had a meeting with was National Lampoon. At the time, Neil McGinness was an executive there before becoming the Editor in Chief of Weekly World News. I pitched him some ideas, Neil was into them, and we got along great and kept in contact. In 2007, when Neil left National Lampoon for Weekly World News, he learned I had published many articles in Weekly World News since 1999. Neil then asked me to start writing regularly for Weekly World News, and I continued to do so.
I've written over 5,000 articles – in the print edition and online. We were doing well, but Weekly World News went dormant in 2015. We relaunched in 2019 when I was named Editor-In-Chief and the CEO.
I knew about Weekly World News when I was growing up. Like everyone else, I found it in the supermarket and found the content fun and fascinating. I loved Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Monty Python, and that kind of surreal, absurd humor. I loved imaginative ideas about biblical prophecies, conspiracy theories, beings from outer space and other dimensions, parallel universe, and time travel. Weekly World News fits my sensibility because I've always been a comedy writer and enjoy exploring different ideas. That's what made Weekly World News so appealing to me; it explores the truth - about what is true, real, and out there in this world and the universe as we know it.
What opportunity was extended to you which kicked off your career with the Weekly World News? What was the atmosphere like in the Weekly World News office and who gave you your first assignment?
I wrote for Weekly World News as a remote freelancer from 1999, presenting articles and discussing ideas with editors, and began working for them regularly in the office from 2007 until 2015. Credit goes to Neil [McGinness] for signing me on as a writer/editor. I enjoyed the interaction with other writers; it’s a blast bouncing ideas off people who have similarly wired brains.
What era in the paper’s history did you start under and can you tell us about what it was like working with the old editorial staff and what their expectations were for their writers each day?
Writing for the Weekly World News was never my full-time gig until I started running the brand in 2019. The pitch meetings I had as a screenwriter helped get me on the current path with the brand. Execs would ask about other projects of mine, and that’s when I’d discuss my work for Weekly World News. They would always smile and tell stories about Bat Boy, the different headlines, and the universe of characters. There was excitement about creating a film or a television show based on the WWN universe. Hearing executives talk about the value in the Weekly World News universe reignited my passion for bringing the entire WWN universe to the world. I began pitching many properties from Weekly World News to different Hollywood production companies. After several years we are now making deals to get WWN characters and stories on TV, film, and podcasts.
When you reflect on all your years writing for the paper, what kind of personality does it take to last as long with the Weekly World News as you have?
You have to have a great imagination; you need to be open to notes and take criticism. Above all, you need to be a thinker. Think about things in different ways and from different angles. Take this example: is the earth round, or is the earth flat? Everyone says the earth is round except those in the Flat Earth Society, for whom many things are crazy! HOWEVER, maybe it is both flat and round. Perhaps the earth is like a living, breathing organism. You need to think outside the box here, be a good writer, constantly create, and more importantly, you need a strong work ethic. You have to write many articles; you have to wake up each day and generate new ideas. Many people have tried to write for Weekly World News, and the usual pattern from most of them is that they write a lot of articles for a short time and then run out of gas. The ones who stay are team players, funny, and consistent. That’s what I’m looking for.
Can you describe the various cultural changes throughout your time working there and what did you want to bring back to the fold, now that you’re running the show?
I want to go back to the original vibe of Weekly World News, a room of four to five like-minded writers and editors who share ideas and decide what stories we want to focus on. We currently have writer meetings twice a week, usually via Zoom, and we bounce ideas and stories off each other. I want to bring back that camaraderie among writers; that’s my goal. I want to diversify our writing team and bring different viewpoints and backgrounds into the mix for cultural purposes. Satire publications tend to be staffed by a majority of white writers; I don’t want that. I’m not saying this simply because diversity is the buzzword these days; I want WWN to reflect the current world we live in. WWN has changed a good deal since it started in 1979, and I want different voices with a consistent ability to write every day, come up with many other ideas, and be funny.
When and how did you know that 2019 was the right time to relaunch Weekly World News? Were there any insights from long-time readers here and abroad that were asking about the tabloid's status and what information did you find out about readership and demand where it only made sense to go back in print and get the word out?
In 2015, Weekly World News temporarily ran out of money. I’ve been very passionate, incredibly passionate, about WWN for years. Anyone who knows me knows that I am consumed by the desire to revive WWN and bring it to a new, higher level. When American Media sold Weekly World News in 2007 to an investor group in New York City, I kept pitching it in Hollywood. The idea of letting this brand go was unfathomable to me. Everywhere I went to pitch the brand, people loved hearing about the Weekly World News characters. Bat Boy, Lake Erie Monster, Manigator, and many others. Many were people who grew up in the 1990s and into the early 2000s. They’d cite past articles and would express enthusiasm and joy for stories we published. Weekly World News touched millions of people in the United States. We did have a print circulation of over 1.3 million at our peak. Once we went online, audiences from England, India, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and other places worldwide found out about us. I was relentless about not letting this go by the wayside and eventually die off. Hence, the owners said, let’s get this thing going again. Have Greg run it. That’s how it happened.
Tell us about your team who you’ve brought on to help further develop Weekly World News and their history with the paper?
The team we have now is fantastic. We have two screenwriters who have written many movies, including Ed Naha, who wrote stuff for Roger Corman and the script for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. We’ve got a couple of people who’ve written for The New Yorker for a long time, a few other TV writers that are on deck. We’re cultivating two great writers from the advertising world - Alex Colvin and Matt Jones. We have Maya Knell, who is doing our popular video reporting as Cordelia Bunk. Another popular field reporter is Lester Caine. He’s played by Jeff Penalty, who was the lead singer for Dead Kennedys for a period of time.
Since becoming the boss, you’ve hit the ground running with the relaunch of a new print issue and the recent announcement of Weekly World News Studios with Zombie Wedding as being the brand’s first movie in development. What other new media plans are in development (that you’re willing to speak about) to push the brand past just being online and a print brand?
We have a lot going on with the Film/TV side of the business. This has been our biggest priority because it will give Weekly World News the most significant exposure to new audiences, along with people who know and love the brand. We have a deal in the works with a Weekly World News documentary moving forward; the documentary is all about our history going back to 1970. We’re moving forward with talks with Warner Brothers about a TV series and another one with Paramount TV. I’m also pitching a show with Adam Rifkin; he directed Detroit Rock City and the Burt Reynolds film, The Last Movie Star. He’s a fantastic writer, and we created a show together about Weekly World News that’s received a great response. But as we’ve been involved in pitching and producing for a while now, we know it takes time for anything in Hollywood to take off. We wanted to get things done while we continued to move items through the Hollywood pipeline. Our solution was creating Weekly World News Studios, where we’ll be producing independent movies and TV series content on our own. We have three projects on our slate already. The first one is Zombie Wedding, which is based on an interactive play run from 2016 - 2019. Zombie Wedding was written by me and produced by Joe Corcoran, who produced a long-running interactive play called Tony and Tina’s Wedding; Joe is considered the father of interactive theatre in New York. Zombie Wedding was scheduled to open in downtown New York for a long run in 2020, but the pandemic halted it. Those plans fell through. So we decided to turn Zombie Wedding into an independent film. We have a fantastic director, Tonya Pinkins, who is a highly respected actress, producer, and director. She’s won two Tony awards and is a world-class singer. If you listen to her, you’ll agree she’s one of the best in the world. She just directed her first feature film called Red Pill, and Zombie Wedding will be her second feature.
With all the new sites that have popped up over the years that parallel WWN, this tabloid never officially retired and therefore doesn't fall into that "legacy" status. From your time with this paper, what do you know is the primary driver for keeping the Weekly World News going and relevant in today's marketplace?
Maintaining relevance, that's the big thing. Keeping Weekly World News relevant is the significant primary driver. We don't want to be known as a legacy paper, we're not dead and such, and we don't want to rely on older content. We're evolving with the world and adapting our stories to the current culture. We have to keep expanding. The goal has always been to get Weekly World News into Film and TV, and we're aggressively going after that. We want to explore ideas like the metaverse and living in "the simulation." Weekly World News has 300 characters in our universe, and we introduced a new one this year called Little Monkey Man that people seem to love. He's a funny, great-looking character who happens to be a Miami DJ. People dig it. As we continue publishing online, we also intend to get back into print. That's another goal we're aggressively working towards. We want to get Weekly World News to more people and bring our characters to a larger, new audience.
The first print issue of Weekly World News in 15 celebrates all the iconic covers throughout the publications history and is available through their website.
Is Ed Anger as furious as ever with the events today?
Not only is he furious, but Ed’s also one of the more popular characters in our universe. Ed Anger was created by a slightly left-of-center writer who wanted a satire of someone like Rush Limbaugh. He had crazy articles about paving over the rain forests, giving teachers stun guns 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. Ed Anger influenced even Stephen Colbert. Today, Ed Anger’s column doesn’t work like it used to because what he’s saying feels real. So we’re countering this by pairing Ed with his daughter, Kim Anger. Ed Anger is 83 years old now, while Kim is in her late 50s and highly left-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.
For anyone interested in working or contributing for the Weekly World News, what kind of gusto are you looking for in writers?
We’re looking for ideas, and we take submissions at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We get many submissions. People are very gung ho when they send us a few articles initially and then disappointed when they don’t all get published. Still, we’ll pick up one and put it out. Everyone uses a pseudonym. I would tell writers to keep sending us stuff and keep generating ideas. Everyone that writes for us has a lot of ideas every day, and that is the key. It’s writing every day and not waiting for inspiration. That’s the key. Just sit at the desk, get to work. I was writing four or five articles a day at one point online.
For anyone who wants to walk a similar path as you, what’s the one piece of advice you can leave out of all the years of experience you’ve accumulated?
I don’t want to sound cliche but never, ever give up. Never quit. Keep learning, keep grinding each day. Again, it sounds cliche, but it’s the absolute truth. Don’t repeat the same thing over and over again. Listen to feedback, take what you think is valuable, take notes and suggestions positively, and keep improving 1% a day. The best writers I know are constantly writing and always aiming to get better. I can’t stress that enough, especially if you’re passionate about this writing. Just keep grinding away and always try having fun. Come join the Weekly World News Army!
Weekly World News Online
Interview by The Heathen
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,