How can alt-weeklies survive if they’re no longer an alternative?

Salon | The Phoenix
Will Doig writes that “the way we create our own communities now” has helped hasten alt-weeklies to their grave:

People will always identify with their cities, but the congregation of loosely affiliated urban tribes that alt-weeklies used to collect under one umbrella are now reaching out to each other across the globe instead.

He then zeroes in on what those papers can still do well:

It was L.A. Weekly’s Christine Pelisek who learned, after months of dogged reporting in low-income neighborhoods that rarely see a reporter, that a series of murders in the city were in fact the work of a serial killer. The Stranger, Seattle’s alt-weekly, won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its haunting story of a rape and almost-double murder — the reporter later said that an alt-weekly was “one of the rare and lucky places” that would accommodate such a piece. Portland, Ore.’s, Willamette Week exposed the state’s former governor as a child molester in 2004.

The Phoenix’s Carly Carioli calls the piece “shamelessly shoddy,” then goes on to make fun of Doig’s name and misspell the name of another person he quotes. But buried in all that half-baked rage are the seeds of a plan for alts to climb out of their downward spirals. 

According to Doig, the Phoenix used to be an “alternative weekly,” but now it’s a “news culture lifestyle” magazine. Breaking news, Will: we’ve always been a news, culture, and lifestyle publication. Those elements were a part of the Phoenix – and of all alt-weeklies – in 1969. As for the claim that we are now a glossy magazine: guilty as charged. We are exactly as glossy a magazine as the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Time Out New York, Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ, and SPIN (RIP), to name just eight of the magazines that continue to hoover off Phoenix writers and editors whenever they’re looking for someone smart, witty, urbane, and ready to smash the powers-that-be in the face. We have said for decades that we are a magazine in newsprint form. Now we’re a magazine in magazine form.

In other words, if you can no longer be a great alternative, be a great weekly. Work in opposition to what L.A. Weekly News Editor Jill Stewart tells Doig is the L.A. Times’ local approach: “This is boring, and we’re here to bore you.” It doesn’t matter if that’s strictly true: Hire a few misfits, convince them they alone can save their cities, then sic them on any local power structures that aren’t getting enough sunlight.

Related: Charles Apple on Tom Tomorrow’s “obscenity-laced meltdown” after Village Voice drops his strip. (Charles Apple)

Previous alt-weeklies-are-dying pieces: The Village Voice, “dying for so long, seems finally on the verge of actual collapse” (Rosie Gray, BuzzFeed) | “[A]lternatives are just one more alternative among many” (David Carr, The New York Times) | The “Voice and its sister alternative papers don’t really exist anymore.” (Michael Wolff, The Guardian)

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