Many people say they still love print newspapers, but few go as far as Alec Italiano, 30, of Greensburg, to prove it.

Italiano got hooked at Hempfield Area Senior High School in 2007 when he covered presidential candidate Joe Biden for the school newspaper and worked next to reporters for CNN and The New York Times. Then, at Penn State University’s Behrend College in Erie, he worked as sports editor for The Behrend Beacon student newspaper and ended up marrying the editor-in-chief.

He recently called on some college friends and dipped into his own pocket to put out a newspaper called the West Penn Tribune.

Italiano, who worked as a freelancer on the sports desk of the Tribune-Review while selling ads for the Trib’s sister company 535media, says he was inspired by Horace Greeley, the 19th-century publisher of the New York Tribune.

Like Italiano, Greeley briefly ended up in Erie, working at a newspaper called the Gazette. When Italiano graduated from college, he bought an Erie-based biweekly newspaper called the Marketplace Gazette for $1. The previous publisher wanted out, he said, and the biggest asset was an ad agreement with a local casino that ended after a few months.

Italiano catered weddings and events during the day and worked on his newspaper at night — at least until he closed it down.

When he moved back to the Pittsburgh area, Italiano freelanced in journalism before taking a job in workforce development.

No matter what he did, though, Italiano could not stop thinking about print newspapers.

“It wasn’t the smartest thing, maybe, but honestly it’s something I have been working on in my head,” Italiano says. “Ever since that [Marketplace Gazette] fell apart, I was like, I want to do a real newspaper. I’ve had the idea since then, and I finally got up the gumption to do it.”

Starting around Memorial Day, Italiano reached out to friends to contribute to his newspaper. All the articles offer an opinion on the topic being written about and are anonymous. He worked on the publication into the early mornings after putting his (now) 16-month-old baby to bed.

He raised a big chunk of the $1,400 publishing cost by selling a couple of ads, and he made up the difference. He had 5,000 copies printed and launched a website. He then started driving around to gas stations throughout western Pennsylvania, asking clerks if he could leave the newspaper for people to pick up.

Rather than charging for the newspaper, Italiano gave the West Penn Tribune away for free and ran a notice on the front page asking people to send him the $3 cover price via Venmo.

“I was surprised. I have had a few people write me checks, and I had a few people Venmo me.”

In the end, Italiano figures he lost a couple of hundred dollars and ended up with about half of the newspapers sitting in his garage. And yet, he already has started thinking about how to raise enough money to put out a second edition.

As for his wife, Shannon?

“I can’t say she was exactly supportive,” he told me, “but in the end, she did help me edit the paper.”

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park Universitywrites the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you can email him 

Andrew Conte

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments.