George Fiala: ‘Newspapers are full of adventures’

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Jan 1, 2024

George Fiala (in back, playing drums) has always had a love for music and the arts and once had a stage in his workplace. (Provided)
George Fiala, publisher of the Red Hook Star-Revue and Amagansett Star–Review. (Provided)
Before starting the Red Hook Star-Revue, George Fiala was general manager of the Phoenix Newspaper in Brooklyn. He s posing here with Mike and Dnynia Armstrong, who published the Phoenix in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “I worked with them for 10 years, and they both died from the Coronavirus during the pandemic, unfortunately,” FiaIa says. “I learned a lot from them, as did all their staff.” (Provided)

George Fiala is a publisher for the readers.

His monthly Red Hook Star-Revue covers the trendy Red Hook community in Brooklyn, and its pages hold adventures just waiting to be discovered and explored.

In a published Thanksgiving letter, Fiala told his readers, “You never know what’s going to be on the next page. … There may be something you didn’t even realize you wanted to know.”

That statement sums up Fiala’s mission to provide stories and information to his community that his residents can’t find anywhere except in the pages of the Star-Revue. And that will keep them coming back for more.

“I want to make this newspaper an interesting read for people who live in our coverage area, and I have a corral of good writers to help me do that,” he said in a recent Zoom call.

A lifelong newspaper reader himself, Fiala, 70, has viewed his corner of the world from the business end of the newspaper industry.

Fifty years ago, Fiala, an English major at Franklin & Marshall College, fanned his passion for radio, but it didn’t make for a viable career, so he turned his attention to the printed word and signed on as general manager of The Villager, a Greenwich Village weekly, and its sister paper, the now-defunct Phoenix in Brooklyn. Along the way, he cultivated his interest in music and writing, from playing in bands to practicing journalism.

In 1988, he launched Select Mail, a mailing service that continues to serve customers today and maintains a robust business. Along the way, his nostalgia for the newspaper business persisted, and by 2010, he had saved enough money to start the Red Hook Star-Revue.

Red Hook is a neighborhood in west Brooklyn, situated along the Red Hook Channel and overlooking Governor’s Island. Formerly a gritty, blue-collar part of the borough that is partly gentrified, the community is known for its post-industrial vibe and waterfront attractions. The neighborhood has a rich history as a busy port, with vestiges of that economy still alive in the many warehouses and piers along the streets. Red Hook has been called a hidden gem in Brooklyn, with an eclectic mix of old and new, trendy restaurants and bars and a popular destination for foodies.

Fiala, who lives in Brooklyn, discovered Red Hook when he started Select Mail. He found a large building, established his business in the front, and installed a café and stage in the back where he could play music.

“I viewed Red Hood as an interesting neighborhood with a diverse mix of wealthy and low-income residents,” he said. “I thought there were probably a lot of great stories here, and that’s what made me determine it would be a good place for a newspaper.”

Fiala first started writing about Red Hook’s more affluent sectors as a way to attract advertisers, only to find that his potential customers were interested in the whole community, including its grittier side.

“People really began to like the newspaper because no one had ever paid that part of Brooklyn any attention before, and they appreciated the coverage,” he said.

Some publishers describe their newspapers as mirrors of the communities they serve. The Star-Revue is no different; its news and features are just as unique and diverse as the people who live there.

The nameplate features a fitting tagline that proclaims: “Celebrating Community.”

“We publish stories about the local schools, businesses, music and the arts, and I try to make it interesting for everybody,” he said.

The December issue, a 16-page broadsheet, was full of columns and articles about local politics, books, food and jazz.

After launching the Star-Revue, Fiala began looking for ways to economize.

“Newspapers cost a lot of money, and my rent kept going up in my building, so when I had a chance to move, I left and took a space with New York Printing and Graphics, and that has worked out nicely,” he said.

Fiala’s mailing service customers are mostly long timers, and his business ebbs and flows along with theirs. He finds he is able to serve them by himself with just one fulltime employee.

“I like doing the work, and instead of having a large payroll along with rent, I just have one employee,” he said. “When my customers get busy, we get busy, and when it’s too much, I’ll call in somebody else, but it’s usually manageable.”

As much as Fiala loves his mailing service with its ability to pay the bills and earn him a living, it leaves him with a longing that the business alone can’t fill.

“OK, the mailing business is not sexy, and people say I’m not living up to my potential,” he said. “Publishing a newspaper makes it seem like I am doing more.”

The newspaper speaks to Fiala on a deeper level, too. He stretches his arm to reach a shelf next to his desk and pulls down a large book. He opens it to reveal a bound volume of Star-Revue past issues.

“One day, we all will be no longer alive, but these bound volumes will reside somewhere, and with that, I am leaving something behind,” he said. “We all like to think we are achieving a little bit of immortality.”

Last August, Fiala launched a sister paper, The Amagansett Star-Revue.

He had inherited a summer home in the Hamptons after his mother died and was using it as a vacation rental property. He started spending more time there himself and determined Amagansett needed a local Star-Revue newspaper. So, he started a 12-page, free distribution broadsheet. Just five months in, his distribution has reached 3,000.

Although Fiala is devoted to telling great stories for his readers, don’t think for one minute he doesn’t care about his advertisers, too. Because he does.

In the Thanksgiving column he published in the Red Hook Star-Revue, he proclaims his advertisers “unsung heroes” and gives a special shoutout to the most loyal of the bunch that support his newspaper all year ‘round.

But advertising is harder and harder to come by these days. He blames social media and considers Instagram and its influencers as his toughest competition on both the advertising and news sides.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in the last 14 years is the evolution of the smart–phone,” he said. “When businesses want to get their messaging out, they just put it on Instagram.”

Social media also influences how he covers his community.

“It’s why I don’t think people depend on me for up-to-date information,” he said. “If I try to publish a daily calendar, it will cost money, and I’ll just be recreating something that already exists, so I look for stories no one else is covering.”

In a recent column, Fiala told his readers what he believes is a growing problem for community engagement.

“It seems to be harder and harder to get people to actually show up for public and community meetings,” he writes. “Perhaps as the smartphone becomes more and more of a medium of communication and action, physical things like showing up at meetings or reading an actual newspaper are seen as inconvenient.”

He prints his newspapers at Turnbull Printing in Connecticut as part of a printing coop through the New York Press Association.

Both Star-Revue products are free in both print and online. They are distributed out of local businesses, including a liquor store in Brooklyn next to a housing project where they are a popular commodity.

“The guy who runs the store loves the Star-Revue and puts a copy of it in every customer’s shopping bag when they check out,” he said. “Then he gets upset when I don’t leave him enough copies for all his customers.”

Fiala believes the name of his newspaper came from divine intervention and is charmed.

Red Hook was originally an Italian neighborhood, filled with immigrants who arrived by ship and settled there. The first building Fiala rented for his mailing service originally was a theatre that produced shows featuring life-sized puppets.

“The venue was called the Star Theatre,” he said. “I know that many newspapers are called “Review,” and since I wanted to heavily cover the arts, I decided to name the newspaper the Star-Revue.

Fiala recalled a story from his youthful pursuit of a career in broadcasting.

“I worked at a station in York, Pennsylvania, and the name of our station was Starview,” he said. “I never even thought about it for years after I named the newspaper, and suddenly I realized I used to work at Starview and now I publish the Star-Revue.”

While Fiala enjoys delving into the past, he remains forward-facing and maintains a positive outlook.

He recognizes that newspaper groups are ever-expanding as larger papers continue to buy smaller ones and hire regional editors to oversee multiple newspapers.

“To me, that’s not the traditional vision of what a community newspaper is,” he said. “I see community newspapers in towns with a newspaper office, a publisher who belongs to the Rotary Club and is a stakeholder in the community, and I’m not sure people think about that anymore, especially around here,” he said.

“Today, I can’t say what the future might hold for newspapers,” he added. “But the future for me is to do this as long as I can.”

Teri Saylor is a writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Reach her at