CELEBRITY INTERVIEW: Greg D’Allesandro from the Weekly World News
Recently I have been covering the Weekly World News in my blogs It’s Back!!! The Weekly World News to Return to Print!!! and THE BASEMENT’S WORLD OF THE WEIRD: The Weekly World News Greatest Covers Collector’s Edition. This fantastic paper has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember and for me, its return is a huge deal. When the new Editor in Chief/CEO, Greg D’allesandro, agreed to do an interview with me I was thrilled. To me, he is just as much a celebrity and other famous people are.
1. Can you tell us how the Weekly World News came into being, at a time when there were so many other tabloids on the newsstand?
Weekly World News came into being on October 16th, 1979, the day the first issue hit newsstands. WWN was a division of American Media Inc. (which also owned the National Enquirer). The National Enquirer (which was formed in 1952) went to a color printing press in 1979 and they wanted to use the black-and-white presses they still had. They had collected a number of “bizarre but true” stories that were not used in The National Enquirer, so they thought they would be a good way to launch WWN. It’s original slogan was “Nothing But the Truth.” It was a hit from it’s first publication, selling close to 180,000 copies right out of the gate. It stood out because it was black-and-white and because it had a unique take on the world. The absurdist, surrealistic humor of the tabloid also fit with the times – an era of Monty Python, “Soap”, Andy Kaufman, Steven Wright etc, as well as the rise of Punk and New Wave music.
2. I never saw the earliest issues. Did you start right out of the gate covering UFOs, cryptids and ghosts? What were some of the most popular headlines of the time?
In the beginning, we covered stories about huge grasshoppers, tallest men, fattest cats, tree men, bearded women, sideshow type of stories. These were all based on true stories that were “clipped” from papers across the United States, and the world. We then began covering more cryptids that people in different states had seen. There are creatures in every state that many folks have spotted and we covered these stories. This naturally led to other paranormal phenomena, stories that the other media outlets would not cover: ghosts, etc. UFOs soon became a popular topic in WWN, which became a tabloid about the “truth” that really was “out there.”
3. What is the process of coming up with a typical story and fleshing it out?
All our stories are based on true stories, sightings in our world or theories that people have about the universe and “reality.” We usually start with a “what if”? What if this story is really true? Why if it isn’t true? What can then add to the story to make it more engaging (or entertaining) to our readers. There has to be an element of truth in every story. We are never trying to be funny or humorous. We are just telling stories based on our investigative journalists’ reports. Can they be fantastical? Can they be somewhat unbelievable? Do they make people laugh? Yes, but they are all true. We are, in fact, the world’s ONLY reliable news. And we have been proven to be correct over and over. UFOs? Many people doubted their existence and ridiculed our reporting of them, but in the past year, the Pentagon has released reports proving that they are real. WWN was correct. In 2012, we reported about jetpack officers flying around Los Angeles and in just the last year, there have been a number of sightings of men in Jet Packs flying near LAX. Just to name two examples.
4. Why did you decide to try and move forward with going back into print form? Will each issue continue to appear online as well?
We have a strong and loyal fan base. They want to see WWN back in print, so we are working hard to give them just that. We want WWN back on the shelves in grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies – where everyone would see it at the checkout counter. We realize that it is 2021 and print is no longer the medium of choice for readers, but we plan to print issues again while at the same time ramping up our digital presence. Many are still in to LPs, but they like their .mp3s as well. We want to do the same with WWN. You can have it in print or read it online, or on your phone. That’s what we are working for. But our fans love holding the paper in their hands.
5. So many of the early stories were fantastic. Are there any plans to revisit or reprint stories from the early issues?
Yes! We have been repurposing some of the old stories, reimagining some of them. We honor and celebrate the glorious past of WWN, but we are looking forward to an even brighter future. We want a whole new generation of readers to experience the joy of our content. The old stories still resonate today, so yes we will be reprinting them in a new form. But we have some fantastic writers now and there’s a lot of great content on our social media/website, with even more on the way as we ramp up our staff!
6. Why do you think the Weekly World News did so well, especially with other tabloids that would cover similar stories on occasion.
We did not have a political position. We have never been right-wing or left-wing. We appeal to the imagination, we make people think about reality and truth. There are a number of satire sites/papers but we are, arguably, the first. I think our tone is playful, fun, and earnest. We are not mean-spirited in any way. I think people enjoy coming to WWN for a bit of a “relief” from the “real” world and perhaps to look at the world in from a whole different point-of-view.
7. Can you tell us more about the story of Fox News broadcasting one of your stories on jet packs?
I was writing about 3-4 articles/posts a day back in 2012. It was 2 a.m. and I needed to get something up on the site. I had just read about a company in Australia that was working on a prototype of a jet pack. It was crude, but they got a human being off the ground with it. It was big, bulky. I thought it would make a great story. So, I thought – what if they perfected the jetpack and what if the City of Los Angeles bought the jetpacks and started a Jet Pack division of the LA Police force. The first Jet Pack Officers. I wrote that LA was buying 10,000 jet packs from the Australia company at $10,000 each. I posted it on the site at 3:30 AM and went to sleep. My phone started pinging at 7:30 am. Apparently, the story was picked-up by Fox News. I was told that Brian Kilmeade and Fox and Friends had aired the story, using all my points laid out on a graphic. They reported that LA was hiring 10,000 Jet Pack Officers! Well, two hours later CNN took glee in reporting that Fox News had been “pranked” by WWN. Then MSNBC followed suit. Later that night CNN did a special story about the jet pack story and then on David Letterman that night it was part of his Top Ten list for the night. It was a crazy 24 hours, but WWN got a lot of exposure.
8. When you went strictly online, did you lost much of your fanbase?
Our subscriptions to the print edition peaked at about 1.5 million per issue in the early 2000s. WWN was sold by American Media Inc. in 2007 to an investor group in New York City (SpyCat LLC). We went fully online soon after that. Many publications at that time were going online as well, so it wasn’t wholly unusual. Print was already dying a bit. We had an online presence that began in the late 1990s, so we were already online. But we revamped the website and went full tilt online. We may have lost some fans who were not online, or did not like to read publications online, but we found a new global audience – with readers in England, Ireland, India, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Japan becoming avid readers. It took a little bit, but by 2011 we had a strong following online, and in 2012 we even topped 5 million views a month (sometimes even more). We later ran into some financial issues and in 2015 the site went dormant. It was still there, but we were not adding much new content at all. In the fall of 2019 we began the relaunch. We have our biggest audience on Facebook at the moment, but we know we have millions of fans in the U.S. alone and we are working hard to get them back into the WWN fold.
9. How would you describe your typical readers?
Our readers are the greatest in the world! Demographics are 64% male, average age 25-55 (63%), mostly from the heart of the US, not as much from the cities (though we do have good followings in NYC and LA). Many are those who love comic books, philosophy, sci-fi and humor/comedy. We have a big following in the music world – with punk rock/new wave artists and musicians in general. The Lunachicks wrote a song about our advice columnist Dear Dotti, Weird Al wrote a song Midnight Star (based on WWN) and David Byrne did a movie (True Stories) based on WWN. But many of our fans are musicians and artists.
10. What made you want to go into movie production? What kind of stories do you plan to bring to film?
We have over 115,000 articles and over 300 characters. We have a WWN UNIVERSE of characters. As a screenwriter/tv writer I pitched many projects in LA and was often told that WWN had a strong IP. Producers are always looking for brands and IP and WWN has what they need/want. There has been a great deal of interest in Hollywood in our characters in our brand. We have been speaking with producers/networks and studios for the last two years with plans to exploit our characters and brand. We feel that WWN needs more exposure to remind people that we still exist and to bring WWN to a new generation of followers. TV/Film is the best way to do that. While we are partnering up with producers in Hollywood (with a couple big announcements coming soon) but we are looking to produce our own lower-budget projects as well. We have three movies lined up that center around Weekly World News reporters and the stories they have found. The first three movies are about 1) zombies 2) aliens and 3) a crazy band of musicians (you will love this one). We are teaming up with other writers on scripts based on our characters. We are very excited about WWN Studios and having the ability to make things happen, produced films/TV on our own and present them to the world.
11. If you are able to go back to print form, will it go back to a weekly format?
We are planning a monthly format first, then hope to go to weekly as soon as we can. We have everything in place, except for the distribution, which we are working hard on. We need a partner that will get WWN back into the supermarkets and grocery stores. We hope to be back by the first quarter of 2022.
12. What is the process of producing an issue from beginning to end? How far in advance are issues planned?
At this time, it takes a couple of months to get an issue ready. We have plenty of articles, we just need the graphic design, layout and the actual production. This all takes time and we need the proper lead time to make sure it’s all perfect. As we ramp up our staff and get the process rolling, we can probably do an issue in a month or less.
13. Are there any new, exciting headlines that we can look forward to in the near future?
We have introduced a new character, “Little Monkey Man” (a monkey/man of course) who is a DJ from Miami. He has become very popular already. So we will have more stories about him and about other new characters: Owl Man, Abominable Sandman and others, while still following the exploits of Bat Boy, Manigator, P’Lod, Ph.D. Ape, Lake Erie Monster, Frankenswine and others. Also, we are diving into the metaverse and the simulation, exploring these ideas. We will be bringing back Ed Anger, but this time as part of a point/counterpoint with his left-wing daughter, Kim Anger. We have NFTs coming and look for us on the Sandbox. We have many exciting stories planned – stay tuned!
With everything going on with the Weekly World News, I am truly appreciative of Greg taking time for this interview! I personally cannot wait for new issues to hit the newsstands!