Dear New York Times, Alt-Weeklies Are Decidedly Not "Over"
Last week, when we ran a story about how teenagers are routinely getting tied down in four-point restraints and shot up with mysterious sedatives they call "booty juice" at a taxpayer-funded facility a reader commented: "New Times may do the occasional story about Bieber farting in a jacuzzi, but when they do an investigative story, watch the fuck out. They play no kind of games." I beamed.
I could go on about yesterday's article... "For many people, the alt weekly as a genre is already passé, rendered irrelevant by the rise of the Internet." This argument is sophomoric at best. While it's true that sites like Craigslist drew revenue away from alt-weeklies (and ALL newspapers!), we publish the majority of our stories -- and sell ads -- on said internet. "The internet" is a tool as much as an enemy.
All of this -- "an alt weekly is connected to a city in the way that a website can never be... Alt weeklies also report on the cultural life of a city in a way that neither big daily papers nor websites can... An alt weekly has a staff of paid reporters and editors whose jobs are not only to know the city, but to love it, to hate it, and to be an integral part of it" -- is blather. Any writer can and should do all this; whether they scribble the resulting thoughts on tree bark or a wordpress site or Gene Weingarten's underpants is irrelevant.
All of us in media are up against a wall, because we're all dependent upon advertising. And when companies can get something for free instead of paying for it, they will. So if they can get their message out for free on social media or Craigslist or YouTube, then they have less incentive to pay us to spread their messages for them.
The only way to fight that is produce content that's soooo good or essential that people will pay money for it. All of us in journalism soldier on because
we're sadists we're narcissists we never learned how to codewe know that information has value -- the pen is mightier than the sword, knowledge is power, and all that. Added bonuses at an alt-weekly: You can write about whatever your curiosity leads you to, rather than being stuck on a beat; you can tell your editor to his face if you think his idea is dumb, and he will respect the honesty; you have staff meetings over beers.
How information can be monetized, and how exactly the business models will play out, is something that keeps publishers up at night. At the Sacramento News & Review they have a copywriting arm; in places like Burlington, the alt-weekly is so entrenched that longtime clients still rely on it. To suggest that alt-weeklies as a class are weaker than any other type of media outlet is lazy and it's wrong. We are pumping out some of the best journalism in the country.
For a more engaging, well-reported, and fascinating read than yesterday's New York Times piece, please check out Terry McCoy's story about kids who gang-raped their friend and left a trail of misogyny and drug abuse on Facebook. Although I am sorry to to reveal that just this week, the Washington Post snatched McCoy from us to work on the foreign desk. (Terry, say hi to Gene!)
Sorry, we have to get back to speaking truth to Keith Olbermann and exposing people on Palm Beach who are holding parties for candles that cost $595. Maybe the New York Times can manufacture some kind of trend story around that. Seems like your kind of thing.
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