Dear New York Times, Alt-Weeklies Are Decidedly Not "Over"
That the New York Times published this drivel yesterday is proof the Gray Lady is just as "over" as any news outlet.
Let's get a few things straight.
For anyone who's not a media insider, an "alt-weekly" is the industry name for what you might know in your city as "the cool paper" or "the edgy paper" or "the free paper"... or the fish wrapper with ads in the back where you can find a "good penis enlarger" (as said by a city official not happy with our outing of her misdeeds).
This type of publication can largely be traced to the Village Voice in New York, which popped up in the 1950s as an alternative to mainstream, conservative papers in the city. Its formula -- deep investigative stories; great coverage of arts, music, nightlife, and subcultures; a youthful spirit -- was replicated in cities throughout the United States. Because they rose up as alternatives to mainstream outlets and because they are typically published once a week, these publications got the (awkward) name "alt-weeklies." New Times is considered an alt-weekly, even though the term is now outdated (just as the term "newspaper" is outdated).
In the past decade, there was some industry consolidation (the Village Voice bought up a string of papers while Phoenix-based New Times likewise bought up a string. Then New Times bought the Village Voice's string and ultimately morphed into Voice Media Group) then lots of attrition: Ad sales dipped, page counts shrunk, and both readers and revenue moved from print to web -- a pattern that applies to almost every media property in the country.
At New Times Broward - Palm Beach and each of the 11 papers currently in the VMG chain, we still publish a print edition each week, plus stories that go online only -- totaling about 100 articles per week on three blogs.
That is, I would argue, far from "over."
But yesterday, the NYT published an article suggesting that alt-weeklies are dead, written by an editor at alt-weekly Baltimore City Paper. (Why this guy wants to come out and castrate himself is a mystery to me.) Not only is the article a rehashing of the 2012 NYT piece "Are Alternative Weeklies Toast?", which was itself a rehashing of a Buzzfeed article (Did ya catch that? The NYT follows Buzzfeed and then dares to condescend to alt-weeklies?), but its logic was really dumb: Alt-weeklies are important, and another company just came and saw value in my paper and paid money for it, so now all alt-weeklies are dying and everyone is "glum"!
The author's premise is that his paper is going to start sucking because a corporation bought it. Whether your paper starts to suck or not will depend on a lot of variables, from the writing ability of your staff to the commitment of your owners. I can tell you that a big company owns my paper, and guess where my fellow Managing Editor Tim Elfrink was yesterday, when the NYT published its story? In Boston, headed to Harvard University to pick up his check for $10,000 for being a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for his work on major-league baseball. (He's up against the Wall Street Journal and ABC News). Or was it to pick up his George Polk award? (As a finalist for this, he's in the company of reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post.) I can't remember; he's won so many this year. He's up for a Pulitzer.
For some reason, media writers in the past couple of years have been throwing shade at alt-weeklies specifically -- unfairly, I say! Are alt-weeklies struggling financially? Yes -- but so is almost every media property in this country that's not funded by a billionaire. (And Amazon still isn't profitable, so let's see how Jeff Bezos does with the Washington Post.) Sure, the Boston Phoenix went out of business; but so did the Rocky Mountain News, a daily. The Tulsa Weekly folded; so did Life magazine, dude. Vice gets along with a little help from Rupert Murdoch at Fox. Tribune went through bankruptcy, the New York Times has done layoffs; the Tampa Bay Times was in the news for layoffs this week. I guess when you use alt-weeklies as a punching bag, it takes the spotlight away from your own struggling media company.
I have no idea how long our writers will have jobs, but those who are here are very much alive and kicking ass, I assure you. I feel like I need to stand up for every keyboard rat and ad rep who's plugging away at the Cleveland Scene or the New Orleans Gambit or the Isthmus in Madison or right here in South Florida. At my company specifically, we do a mix of coverage, including the kind of long-form stories that you'll find in magazines like GQ and Esquire. But while magazines typically publish once a month, we pump out a long-form story once a week -- on what I can assure you is a tiny fraction of any national magazine's budget. A typical magazine writer is given several months to conceptualize, report, write, and edit a cover story. Each of our writers completes this cycle every five weeks. In addition, each writer must write a blog every single day and, some weeks, a 1,200-word news story on top of that. Yes, it's brutal. Still, we just had 100 applicants for an open staff writer job.
Do we write dumb lists or breezy blogs? Sometimes, yeah. The Tribune Co. does boob slideshows. New York mag makes up shit like "normcore." (OK, that was awesome.) Even the esteemed New Yorker gets most of its mileage out of Onion-style fake news from Andy Borowitz. Alt-weeklies are no different from any modern media outlet in mixing serious reporting with fluffier, popular stuff and trying to find a combo that works. Don't even try at act like you're above the list format, NYT! Our cover stories will slay you and dumb lists eat your dumb lists for breakfast.