A native of Boston, Benjamin has enjoyed a career that has mirrored the growth of alternative newsweeklies as an industry -- and he has played a significant role in that growth. As board president and founding board member of Alternative Weekly Network, Benjamin helped launch a sales rep firm representing more than 120 alternative newsweeklies nationwide.
"Eric brings a wealth of industry-specific knowledge and experience to our company," says Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos. "In his 20-plus years with weekly newspapers, he has held many key positions, and his keen ability to understand customer needs will help Gambit keep its competitive edge."
Benjamin's experiences span both the editorial and sales sides of alternative newsweeklies. He began with the industry pioneer Valley Advocate, where he penned early features on musicians such as Bonnie Raitt and John Prine. He soon found that his sensibilities were a natural fit with the alternative press. "The issues of the '70s -- the war, nuclear power, women's issues, cultural shifts -- have always been very important to me," Benjamin says. "They were undercovered in the mainstream press and well-covered in the alternatives."
While an undergraduate at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Benjamin also served as music director of the college radio station WMUA. That love of music first led him to New Orleans and Jazz Fest in 1978.
"I found it the best party I'd ever been to," he says. "I didn't understand how anybody could work here in New Orleans. I remember looking out my hotel window and seeing people in business suits going to work in the morning, wondering how could they be doing that. As I came back here in repeated years, I realized New Orleans was much bigger than Jazz Fest."
Benjamin most recently served as national sales director for the Fairfield County Weekly, New Haven Advocate, Hartford Advocate and Valley Advocate (New Mass Media, Inc.). He says he first became aware of Gambit Weekly both as a visitor to New Orleans and through his work in the industry. "I immediately noted that not only is the paper an award-winner, but everyone is extremely nice and professional," he says.
For Benjamin, another draw to Gambit is the opportunity to return to what he calls the heart of the alternative press: independent, locally owned media. "I think that large media corporations have tended to lose sight of the necessity of serving the reader and the advertiser, and think more of serving the investors, who very often are themselves top management. And I think that once you lose sight of serving the 'endline consumer' -- the reader and the advertiser -- you're undermining the fourth estate.
"I think that the position that Gambit is in now is laudable, especially in the context of upheavals in the industry -- both the alternative and mainstream press. By becoming part of what is essentially a mom-and-pop organization, I'm getting back to my roots."
Benjamin has relocated to New Orleans with his wife Jessica Benjamin, a law school student who, as Jessica Stern, served as national sales manager of the Independent Weekly in Durham, N.C. In addition to his new position at Gambit, he is looking forward to pursuing his avocations of bicycling and music -- but now as a New Orleans resident.
"An important role in upper management of a newspaper is to be involved in the community, not just to comment on it and write about it and sell to it, but be part of it," Benjamin says. "This means giving of yourself and your time. That's not something that's always understood in media, this sense of giving back. And it's something I'm looking forward to in New Orleans."
Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos acknowledges that Benjamin's decades-long passion for New Orleans makes him a natural for Gambit. Says DuBos: "His love of New Orleans and its culture, music and food make this a perfect fit."
- Donn Young
- Gambit Associate Publisher Eric Benjamin