CLEVELAND, OH – Nothing could be further from the truth that “since its founding in 1970, the Cleveland Scene has been dedicated to providing fearless, high-quality local journalism, especially in times of crisis.” That’s the first sentence in the weekly publication’s request for subscription support from its readers.
This is what happens when publishers like Andrew Zelman don’t appreciate the history of a business someone else started that they purchased. Scene employs the only writer, Sam Allard, who has ever fabricated words I didn’t say at a Cleveland mayoral debate in 2017 and assigned them to me as a direct quote in the story he wrote afterwards. It’s also the only publication to create a MySpace page using my picture and a derogatory biography one of its reporters created then quoted from as if it was mine.
Had Zelman’s editorial writers bothered to research a February 24, 2014 story Michael Roberts wrote about Kabat for Cleveland Magazine they would have found the following words.
In 1970 in Cleveland, a former service station owner named Rich Kabat started Scene, a weekly paper devoted to rock music, fledgling clubs, the sexual revolution and aging hippies. Kabat is a smart man who preferred good cash flow to good journalism. I remember arguing the merits of truth, justice and the First Amendment with him in shabby Ontario Street bars. He would remind me that those were thoughtful considerations, but they couldn’t pay for the beer.
The truth would have even been told about the origins of Kabat’s newspaper had the writer who shared the lie visited Scene’s archives and read an interview one its former writers, Eric Burnett, did with its founder as published on June 29, 2005. During the interview Kabat said he didn’t “often” read the newspaper he founded anymore. Below are Rich’s words in praise of his decision to make Jim Girard his editor.
“He was the first person that wanted to write about what our audience wanted to read about,” Kabat says. Burnett added that “as a bonus, rock clubs, concert promoters, and record labels suddenly were throwing cash at the paper. Boone’s Farm, the wonderfully cheap elixir of the era, signed on to run full-page ads. It was the best of all possible worlds.”
Kabat started publishing Cleveland Scene magazine in 1970 while I was still attending Shaw High School. I published my first newspaper at the age of 26 in December 1979 after Kabat had been in business for 9 years. Six months after I first published Clique another newspaper publisher hit the market. Ulyssess Glenn and his partner attorney James Hardiman. They published Ascensions. It’s today East Side News.
Prior to publishing Clique I was hired by Call & Post Publisher & Editor William Otis Walker in 1978 to work in his production department. That experience connected me to publishers like Lee Batdorf and Cindy Barber who operated the Express in Cleveland Heights off Coventry. Cindy later edited Free Times. Charles Huffman published the Community News. The Call & Post printed their newspapers and those for other publishers. Madelyn Blunt was the publisher of Clubdate magazine. For some of my readers this is “memory lane.”
I joined the Cleveland Press as a reporter in 1981 after deciding I wanted to go inside a daily newspaper to learn its operation. I returned to publishing when I created The Urban News in 1983 for the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland while Lem Roberson served as the board’s director.
Cleveland had three dailies with the Plain Dealer, Cleveland Press and Daily Legal News when I entered the newspaper publishing competition in 1979. Literally every suburb had its own weekly or biweekly newspaper. The Plain Dealer or Advance Communications back then did not own the Sun Newspapers.
Cleveland in the 1970’s was still relatively stable with a population of around 700,000. We were living in the remnants of segregation which meant the neighborhoods, businesses and institutions were broken up along balkanized ethnic lines. Busing to segregate the city’s schools began in 1977. This place is more Eastern European than most and “balkanization” is a “don’t come into our neighborhood” concept embedded in Eastern European culture.
Kabat’s Scene was in competition with a lot of other publishers so he carved out a Rock n’ Roll or entertainment niche that worked for him and paid his bills. We talked when our paths crossed. Back then publishers were always in the streets either selling advertising or finding new stores to carry our newspapers. Promoting newspapers back then was like campaigning for a political office.
Kabat stayed out of the “news” business unless it was related to entertainment; and focused on selling advertisements to a cadre of Caucasian ethnic owners of bars restaurants, nite clubs, record stores, gentlemen’s clubs and adult book stores. Scene promoted bands, shows, movies, plays, concerts, music, theater, radio, television, dining and escorts. His “stories” promoted the ventures of his advertisers. It got and kept him “paid.”
Kabat, as I recall, published weekly full page ads for Recordland and Record Revolution. I think he also had Record Rendezvous and Record Exchange as advertisers.
Kabat largely stayed out of the affairs of Cleveland’s American Negro community except to distribute Scene in stores that would send potential customers to his advertisers. No one on Kabat’s small 20 person editorial, sales and distribution team was American Negro and it was okay. The Call & Post employed 110 American Negroes across the state, no Caucasians; and had accumulated the majority of advertising targeted towards our community under Mr. Walker as publisher.
When Scene did appear in stores owned by American Negroes and non-advertisers who were competing with his advertisers, the owners were asked by publishers like me if they wanted their customers reading that one of their competitors was undercutting their prices. Copies of Scene would go in the trash or be returned; and distributors told not to return.
Charles E. Bibb, Sr. owned record stores in East Cleveland and was my first advertiser in 1979. When give a choice of distributing 100 copies of Clique with his ad in it or 100 copies of Scene with his competitors’ ads in it which newspaper do you think was on his counter?
Kabat’s paper did not feature any significant presence of American Negro advertisers or artists whose interests conflicted with his Rock n’ Roll audience. And when we “crossed the color line” to enter some of the nite clubs he promoted I remember American Negro men being told we had to show a driver’s license and a major credit card to enter. Newspapers then were geared along ethnic lines. Occasionally he covered American Negro artists like the O’Jays, but the majority of Scene’s editorial coverage was about Caucasian Rock n’ Roll acts and music.
Kabat kept his newspaper out of politics which largely explains why people like me with long memories are still pissed off about the newspaper’s editorial distortions after he sold it in 1998. I hated the “Hit man for hire” story its last owner let Erick Trickey write about me in 2001. Allard redeemed the newspaper with the glowing piece he wrote about my published EJBNEWS. He should stay away from tweeting. Ken Johnson’s federal indictment doesn’t make Mark Naymik “right” if it contains the lie that Cleveland city council’s $1200 monthly expense account is paid with funds from the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development.
Like Kabat said in 2005 when he was interviewed by a Scene writer and told him I don’t “often” read Scene. I don’t either. I know about the subscription request because someone sent me a link to an article and it popped up. I shook my head at the first sentence and wondered if Zelman’s writers ever do any homework.
I don’t know Zelman. I didn’t know he owned Scene until I searched for the owner’s name. When I looked him up I saw the WAGS video and observed that Scene was given an award at an event he judged that dealt with finding homes for dogs needing adoption.
I know now why Scene is begging for paid subscribers. Zelman is into dogs and Kabat was into making money off entertainment. Kabat was interested in making friends. Zelman’s editorial focus has to been to piss people off with “fearless, high-quality local journalism, especially in times of crisis.”
If Kabat was still publishing Scene I’d probably be writing about his success in keeping the newspaper alive for the last 51 years. I respected his commitment to his mission. He also would have known better than to piss me off by writing some lying azzed shit about me. Now Zelman’s publication is lying about its founder’s reason for publishing.
I knew a Lou Zelman who once worked for MCA records. I wonder if the two Zelman’s are related. I asked Lou for a job promoting records. He declined and I thanked him. It was in his office at 17th and Superior that I made the commitment to stick with news.
We ran into each other at a Spyro Gyra concert a year later when I was publishing Clique. I was covering recording artists but not his. Donna Summers was on my first cover. The Dazz Band and Narada Michael Walden were on my third. Kabat’s Scene wasn’t into Chique, Roy Ayers, Tyrone Davis, Robert Lockwood, Jr. or the Delltones. I was.
Kabat had his niche and I had mine. Peaceful co-existence.