What the Heck Is A-1 News?

Sometime in the spring, a new news box appeared among those corner stables of free papers, nestled between the arched orange top of Metro, the slanted red metal of amNew York, the plastic hulk of New York Press, and the narrow giraffes that push Local Writing Classes and the Learning Annex. The newcomer was nondescript: a metal box in dark blue, with a plain white square that declared itself—A-1 NEWS—and proclaimed its lofty intention—LARGEST CIRCULATION.

“They’re the old Hoy boxes,” explained a circulation manager for amNew York, who was refilling one of his own paper’s boxes next to an A-1 box in Union Square on Monday morning. (Hoy Nueva York, a free Spanish-language daily, printed its last paper on Dec. 30 of last year.) The manager shrugged at A-1’s circulation boast, and said he had yet to see a single copy of the paper in any of the A-1 boxes. “It takes a lot of infrastructure to make a paper,” he noted.

In fact, no one seems to have seen an A-1 newspaper, but the blue boxes do advertise a Web site, A-1News.com. According to domain name records, the site was registered in late April, and a few dozen articles were posted a few days later. The design appears to be a generic news template, with a blocky A-1 header and a spinning globe.

The lead photograph jumps between a close-up shot of a soldier and an awkward shot of John McCain, underneath an incongruous headline about Obama’s plans for health care. The site suggest an ambitious, if dated, area of coverage—Obama’s first 100 days; Ford’s first-quarter earnings; a look at the South Korean economy—but for now, the stories appear to be stand-ins, plugged in verbatim from an April copy of The New York Times. The weather, according to A-1, is currently 13 degrees.

So who is A-1 News?

The site is registered under an email address and phone number that are shared with a local truck-driving school. The school’s site advertises defensive-driving courses, along with training classes to drive buses and big rigs—specifically, they can help obtain “your regular Class ‘D’ License or Upgrade to a Truck Class ‘B’ License Or a Bus Class ‘B-P’ Or a Tractor-Trailer Class ‘A’ License with Endorsments [sic]: Hazmaterial, Tankers, Double & Triple etc.” The site also has photos: a shiny 18-wheeler sits in a forest clearing; a man in a red flannel answers a phone behind a desk adorned with a big bouquet; and a young woman in a long black dress with a high slit reclines suggestively on the hood of an imported sports car—waiting, it would seem, for a man with a commercial driver’s license.

A call to the sites’ shared telephone number did little to clear things up. “What? You want me to give you all the information for the company?” said a woman who seemed annoyed and disinterested by questions about when A-1 started, and how many copies it prints. She did say the paper was a weekly, with a circulation “between 40,000 and 30,000.” Though we have yet to track one down.

“So what do you need? You need to work here?” she asked, as a chorus of phones rang in the background.  “I’m very busy, I have to go.”

A follow-up email went unreturned. So, for the time being, the blue husks of A-1 News remain—like so much Manhattan real estate these days—a vacant little mystery.

rpillifant@observer.com

 

What the Heck Is A-1 News?