Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Calling a Halt to the Alts?

Here’s a frightening thought, at least to me: the disappearance of what used to be called “alternative weeklies,” or just “alt-weeklies.”

As Will Doig writes in Salon, “For decades, alt-weeklies have been giving hell to incompetent mayors, evil developers, and lapdog city council members with the kind of righteous rage lots of us eventually outgrow. ‘It’s the best damn journalism in America outside of a monthly national magazine,’ says Fran Zankowski, president of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN).” However, the rise of giveaway newspapers, the encroachment of chain ownership, the creation of Craigslist, and the boom in blogs have all contributed to declining fortunes for alt-weeklies.

I started out working in alt-weeklies, first for Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, and later for Seattle Weekly. Both of those papers, as well as their brethren across the United States, helped educate readers about what was right and going wrong in their hometowns, and provided them with features about books, travel, entertainment, business--pretty much everything their bigger, daily competitors could offer, except the alt-weeklies often presented crisper, less dumbed-down writing than the daily papers, and weren’t afraid to cover edgier topics or leap into the middle of controversies. In recent years, however, many of these publications--including Seattle Weekly, unfortunately--have become timid shadows of their former selves, plumping their pages with soft “consumer stories” and leaving the field of investigative journalism to ... well, nobody.

I hope alt-weeklies can find a new business model to ensure their futures, and become relevant again to a distinctive audience. At this point, though, I’m not confident of that happening on a wide scale.

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