by Laura Richard

What were you doing when you were sixteen? I was a part-time busgirl in a local restaurant, and my hobbies included driving my parents to drink. At sixteen, Tom Cramer is not like many kids his age.

In 2003, when he was only twelve, Tom started a publication called The East Side Thought. This was an extension of his already-developed entrepreneurial spirit – he had already worked on such ventures as “a bike shop and a snack cart.”

The East Side Thought became a way for Tom to express his fascination with his community, and to begin to, as he puts it, “contribute something worthwhile.” Since its inception, The East Side Thought has focused on stories from the East Side that Tom thought “needed to be heard.” He gets his ideas from things that he is curious about; things that may be passed over by the “big presses.”

Tom does it all. He interviews folks on the East Side who have something to say, writes and edits the stories, lays out the publication and sells all the ads. Revenue pays for “almost monthly” printing at local printer Clark Graphics (2915 Oakland Ave.) and leaves a little left over for Tom’s savings account.

Since Tom turned 16, he has gotten his driver’s license and is able to drive himself about town looking for stories and distributing his publication. Before getting his license, he got driving help from family or friends to get around.

“When times where tough, I have walked, biked and scootered the route,” Tom said.

Tom entered poetry and writing competitions in grade school, and realized that he had a spark for writing. It wasn’t until he entered high school that his interest in writing blossomed with the help of “some really cool English teachers” at Marquette High School.

Among Tom’s influences are “Joel McNally, Jimmy Williams, Elaine Litzau, Smoove B, Tim O’Brien and John Updike.” Tom diplomatically noted that “Riverwest Currents is by far my favorite newspaper.” In addition to his love of literature, he enjoys sailing, Ultimate Frisbee and working with kids.

I asked him if there was anything else he wanted folks to know. “Dear Community,” he replied, “I cannot commit to this publication unless I believe it is having some kind of positive impact… What do you want? What do you need? What is ailing you? What kind of changes do you want to see?”

Tom is thinking of attending UWMadison after high school, but isn’t sure if he will go into journalism.

You can find The East Side Thought at more than twenty locations on the East Side, including Beans and Barley, Brewed Awakenings, Koppa’s Full Belly Deli and Schwartz’s Books on Downer. Contact Tom at

Riverwest Currents online edition – March, 2007