Fifty years ago this Thursday, the first edition of The Current arrived at some 10,000 homes across a section of Northwest D.C.
The paper was called The Potomac Current back then, and it was centered around the MacArthur Boulevard corridor — Foxhall Village, Berkley, Kent, the Palisades and what was then known as Potomac Heights. Mainly distributed by schoolchildren, it came out every other week and sold for 10 cents an issue or $3 for a yearly subscription.
In that first edition on Nov. 16, 1967, Potomac Current writers touched on a swath of local issues: a new post office at 5136 MacArthur Blvd. NW, still in operation today; the latest plans for the Three Sisters Bridge, a proposed highway connection from Georgetown to Virginia; and a 9-year-old who had been bitten by a dog near MacArthur and Elliott Place NW. Early advertisers included National Permanent Savings & Loan; the Burdette Key Shop on Dorsett Place NW off Arizona Avenue; and Ted Lingo Inc., a MacArthur Boulevard Realtor.
Early editions prominently featured topics that remain familiar five decades later: airplane noise complaints in the Palisades; an announcement about fall leaf collection; plans for an outdoor swimming pool in Ward 3; parking pressures in Burleith; and plans to enlarge the Palisades Safeway.
“And away we go,” The Current’s inaugural editorial wrote. “First off, this newspaper has no axe to grind. It fronts for no cause. Rather it represents a straightforward effort to report news affecting our community.”
In The Current’s half-century of life, it has changed hands, seen staffers come and go, and switched to free distribution. The name changed in the early 1970s, as the growth of Potomac, Md., made the original name a particular point of confusion. In the 1990s and early 2000s, The Current added the Georgetown, Dupont and Foggy Bottom titles, as well as a second edition of The Northwest Current distributed primarily in Ward 4 neighborhoods; in 1997, the paper became weekly. But its purpose has stayed steady: delivering Northwest residents on-the-ground news that larger outlets might not have the time, inclination or resources to focus on.
“This paper is published on the premise that many events of significant interest to area residents happen constantly but are too parochial to warrant proper reporting,” The Current wrote in 1968.
And that idea seemed to resonate with readers early on, as the paper grew with each passing year. More neighborhoods were soon added to its coverage area — first Burleith, Georgetown, Glover Park and American University Park in 1969 and then Spring Valley, Wesley Heights and Friendship Heights by 1970. It also began serving Glen Echo and Brookmont in Maryland, though the paper has more recently stayed within D.C.
Don Rozicer, one of The Current’s first owners, described the early days of The Current as slow yet steady. In Rozicer’s view, the paper’s strength was in its hyperlocal coverage. The Current’s most pertinent competitor was The Uptown Citizen, Rozicer added, until that publication broadened its coverage area and eventually shuttered in the early 1990s.
The Current has also followed education as it has evolved in D.C. As Edward Smith, then an American University professor, wrote in a 1992 op-ed, “Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly visited a D.C. public junior high school and was frightened by what she saw in the volume of truancy, apathy, and the wanton destruction (and lack of repairs) in school buildings.”
In recent years, The Current has reported that a number of public schools are overcrowded, especially in Ward 3 — while a serious problem, it suggests the District’s education system is looking up.
As well as education, transportation, zoning and culture, The Current has enduringly covered local D.C. politics.
“The problems and challenges of governing the Nation’s Capital are unique,” states a 1986 editorial. “They require a greater sensitivity than many other cities demand. And by its very nature, Washington comes under greater scrutiny than many similar metropolitan cities.”
Although there’s frequently hostility between the media and politicians, in all, many D.C. leaders say they value local outlets.
Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh is one example. Cheh wished The Current a warm happy birthday on Monday, saying that residents wouldn’t know “a 10th — or even a 20th” of what they do about the District without The Current.
“Congratulations,” Cheh said. “Let’s get another 50.”