Dear New York Times, Alt-Weeklies Are Decidedly Not "Over"

Categories: Broward News

Flickr cc/ Joe Shlabotnik
How are those mortgage payments going, NYT?
Another day, another poorly thought-out article: Are Alt-Weeklies 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 New Times is considered an alt-weekly, even though the term is now outdated (just as the term "newspaper" is outdated).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.

My Voice Nation Help
26 comments
rholbert
rholbert

I would agree the writer kind of missed the point of the original article, but it her thoughts on the value of alt weeklies are well taken. Alt weeklies, or independent weeklies, or whatever name we give ourselves, still have bright futures. This is particularly true in places where the dailies have decided it's over. (Looking at you Newhouse!)

Our newspaper, Lagniappe, has seen tremendous growth over the past 115 months, and after 11 years as a bi-weekly will make the jump to weekly in April. I think that is primarily a product of the community seeing that their daily that turned into a thrice-weekly was, in fact, owned by people from somewhere else who don't really care about the community.

We're not alone. I'm sure Gambit in New Orleans is reaping the benefits of the Times-Picayune's fate, and I'd expect other quality alts in Newhouse cities to have a similar experience.

In Mobile, Ala. the alt is growing and it all is just part of the reshuffling of the media deck that was owned for so few for so long. I believe there are brighter days ahead for those in the weekly biz. Clearly the folks in Baltimore do too or they wouldn't have scooped up their rival.

reillynicolas
reillynicolas

upto I saw the check that said $4479 , I have faith that...my... father in law woz like realey bringing in money part time from their computer. . there friend brother has been doing this for only 1 year and as of now cleared the depts on there apartment and bourt a gorgeous BMW 5-series . visit their website W­ o­ r­ k­ s­ 7­ 7­.­ℭ­O­M­

reillynicolas
reillynicolas

upto I saw the check that said $4479 , I have faith that...my... father in law woz like realey bringing in money part time from their computer. . there friend brother has been doing this for only 1 year and as of now cleared the depts on there apartment and bourt a gorgeous BMW 5-series . visit their website W­ o­ r­ k­ s­ 7­ 7­.­ℭ­O­M­

rebapershing
rebapershing

With such glib, poorly written articles of this it is a wonder that any alt weeklies still exist.  The writer may want to reread Mr. Woods' article for a clearer understanding of its point.

satellitegimp
satellitegimp

Like others who have commented, I feel like the writer entirely missed the point of the piece by Mr. Woods. As for the tone of the original piece, personally I prefer Mr. Woods' passion to this writer's smarm no matter the subject..

FatHand
FatHand

I for one cherish the alt-weeklies. This one in particular. Keep up the amazing work and this guy will keep reading. 

bikesandbeards
bikesandbeards

"To suggest that alt-weeklies as a class are weaker than any other type of media outlet is lazy and it's wrong." Yes, it would be, had the suggestion actually been made in the article. The point of the piece was precisely devoted to how and why alternative weekly papers are important to both journalism and to local cultures. The only 'blather' I see at work here is an exclamation point filled rant from someone that is too lazy to engage with substance of the article and otherwise wrong about its most basic premises and assumptions. For example, it is, in fact, highly relevant where a journalist 'scribbles' his or her thoughts when the issue at stake is whether people without regular Internet access are negatively impacted by the loss of a free, local print news publication. 


Overall: yeah...I get it. You have a blog and your beer-drinking-buddy-editor will let you write whatever you want (clearly). Nice work on that.  


But the New York Times is hardly "manufacturing a trend" by publishing an article by a newspaper editor, in the midst of the paper's takeover, at a time of seismic transformation and consolidation in the news industry. It's what most semi-conscious folks would see as a pretty newsworthy story. 


Finally...and I can't believe I actually have to type this sentence...when a writer makes casual reference to the relationship between journalism and the "rise of the Internet," it's safe to assume that said writer is not talking about Craigslist. Just saying.  

joshsiskmvn
joshsiskmvn

Did you read the NYT piece past the first paragraph? It seems like you missed lines like: "But an alt weekly is connected to a city in the way that a website can never be." as well as: "Alt weeklies also report on the cultural life of a city in a way that neither big daily papers nor websites can." and let's not forget: "the archive of an alt weekly is like James Joyce’s “Ulysses” — a document from which a city could be rebuilt." 


I can't see how someone could read Baynard Woods' piece and take what you took from it. It's a love letter to alt weeklies, a statement that they ARE still relevant. Maybe you should read it again.

els12
els12

This sounds like a 100% mis-reading of Baynard Woods' NYT piece, the very point of which is that alt-weeklies are NOT dead, but in fact a vital part of urban life? Did you read past the headline??

ChazStevensGenius
ChazStevensGenius

Deirdra;

You also forgot to mention NT's worldwide scoop on the Festivus pole saga!

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@satellitegimp No offense to Woods. He is a comrade in arms. I get that he was trying to say nice things about alts, although it felt more like a lament and a surrender when what is needed is a call to arms. His piece was not well-organized (writers from alts are somehow more qualified to know/love/hate a city than writers from other outlets???) , but my fury was more at the NYT for opening the window for people to say "Yeah, they're dead," which if you look at the comments on the NYT article is what most people essentially said. It's infuriating to see these columns keep coming, esp from writers who earned their chops in the alts, then get on a bigger (but still sinking!) perch and look down on the alts instead of standing up for them. Next time NYT poses a question abt the industry, I hope it is :Did you read that phenomenal story on [altweekly X's] site?  and p.s. -- if anyone ever "misreads" my work, I only blame myself for not having made a clear enough point.

chuck.strouse
chuck.strouse moderator editor

@bikesandbeards  Maybe you're really just trying to sell your bike or beard on the internet....because if you had read Ms. Funcheon's piece closely, you would have realized that she's mounted a valiant defense of our trade... and that the NYT published a rather confused piece that really doesn't know what it is trying to say. I guess the idea is: Yeah, alt weeklies are good, but maybe not in corporate hands. But who in hell can tell? In any case, Mr. Facial, I hope SOMEBODY buys your bike......   

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@joshsiskmvn  Didn't miss those lines; I quoted them.  Try again.


funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@els12  Then why is he so glum? Why isn't he saying, :"Sweet! Now that someone bought us, my paycheck is guaranteed for X amount of time, and I can write that big story!"  I feel kind of bad for him -- It's tough to write an essay on a topic that can go in a few different directions. I get the general feeling of malaise, but my point is that malaise extends to all media. Alt-weeklies are getting picked on all the time -- unfair and totally absurd considering all the great work that's getting published.  His woefulness does nothing to help the genre. 

Truth
Truth

@funchey1 You accidentally reveal the cause or precipitation of your own demise: 


"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."


In the story you cite and encourage others to read, there are poorly constructed, unedited sentences and thoughts like:


"With parents in and out of prison and households splintered by domestic violence and drug abuse, the teenagers have spent much of their short lives hopscotching through residences across southern Hollywood, where annual household income hovers between $28,000 and $35,000 and the only way to combat boredom, says one high school friend, "is to get in fights and get fucked up.""


A rambling unfocused sentence like that, while not uncommon in the crunched, overworked world of alts, would not appear in the NYT or any publication near that quality. There are plenty more examples where that came from. It's more the fault of editors than writers, but even the editors don't have the time good journalism often requires. When you hold this up as some of the best work, it only proves you've already surrendered. Alts still do some really great work, but it's rare, and becoming more so every year.

joshsiskmvn
joshsiskmvn

@funchey1 @joshsiskmvn  You quoted them, yet still got the point of his article wrong. Or perhaps were just aiming for a click-bait title and lede? Either way, portraying his piece inaccurately.

chuck.strouse
chuck.strouse moderator editor

@funchey1 @joshsiskmvn Woods is suspicious that corporate ownership. Many alt weeklies, including ours, have flowered under this sort of ownership. Deirdra's points are important and interesting. 

alexfineillos
alexfineillos

@funchey1 He's glum because we lost some amazing talents when the paper was bought.  An art director who's been with the paper for 25 years and many others with over a decade on the job.  There's also a history between the City Paper and the paper that bought them that I might assume you know nothing about.  There is also a strong possibility that the direction of the paper's content might change for the worse due to the new ownership.  Working at your paper might be like an episode of The Newsroom where you can call your boss an asshole and keep your job but in the past week, anyone following what has happened at City Paper knows that in this case that luxury does not apply.  I know you think Baynard's writing was blather but I seriously almost threw up every time you used this article as a way to boast about your own paper.  Name dropping and bragging about awards is not exactly Pulitzer material itself.  Try again.

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@joshsiskmvn @funchey1Yeah an inside-media critique of a critique of the alt-weekly industry is "click-bait" !  LOL

joshsiskmvn
joshsiskmvn

@chuck.strouse @funchey1 @joshsiskmvn  Actually the BCP has been corporate owned for years, since before Woods worked there, so I don't think he is suspicious of that. BSMG bought BCP from Times-Shamrock, a media conglomerate...

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@alexfineillos  and P.S. just looked at your portfolio. Awesome work!  Esp love your Joey Ramone. Hope you are selling prints also! 

funchey1
funchey1 moderator editor

@alexfineillos @funchey1  No one is getting rich here, though I realize VMG may be in a lil better shape than other alts. I feel for ya, As long as you can still get paid for writing/illustrating instead of having to go out an get a job emptying Port-a-potties o whatever, seems like you have a choice: either roll over and let everyone imply that we are dead, or bring attention to the killer work we have been doing. SMH why you think it's bad to brag about our accomplishments. We gotta do more of that, my friend! 

alexfineillos
alexfineillos

@funchey1 @alexfineillos  I'm sure it does.  I usually love working with Voice Media papers because they pay well and give me a lot of artistic freedom.  That's what I'm hoping will be the case here in Baltimore and I guess time will tell.  I just think that Voice Media papers are a rare breed in the world of alt weeklies.  I've worked for more weeklies than I can count as a freelancer and corporate ownership doesn't always equate to good journalism and art.  It all depends on who owns your paper and possibly their willingness to step out of the way and let the editors, creative directors, and writers do what they do best.  Also the willingness to part with enough money to let the paper hire the right people.  I'm happy for you (honestly) that you get to work for a paper that gives you creative freedom to print what you want and financial freedom to hire talent.  To think that a majority of other weeklies have the same luxury is as naive as thinking every American is on a level playing field.  

Now Trending

Miami Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...