Monday, October 7th, 2002


Ok so maybe this isn’t taking the high road…but since I just got back from a weekend conference discussing the ills of media monopolization, this article in the New York Times, “Alternative Weeklies Divide Turf” gives me a nice reason to vent some steam I’ve been gathering in over a decade of writing for alt-weeklies.

Alt-weeklies mostly emerged as a way of meeting great goals: 1) providing a progressive foil against the mainstream, 2) representing lefty politics, and cutting-edge arts and culture of local communities through covering stories never told by the corporate mainstream media, and 3) building an enlightened business model — by becoming a marketing vehicle for local, small businesses, and people-connecting mechanisms (i.e. personal ads!) — in other words, being a manifestation of the whole “small is beautiful” ethic.

That era ended about a decade ago. Now, as the Times notes, the Village Voice Media and the New Times–the two monsters left in the game–have slowed down their competition. These $100+ million companies have declared a truce by each agreeing to close one of their magazines in areas where they have been going head to head. Specifically, New Times agreed to shut down the New Times LA, which has been going head to head with the Voice’s LA Weekly. The Voice agreed to shut down the Cleveland Free Times which has been fighting the New Times’ Cleveland Scene. Can anyone say collusion?

In radio, of course, Clear Channel has been buying up radio stations to remove competition and either sterilizing or changing the formats. Newspapers, same story. Alt-weeklies, which should have remained independent voices, have gone the same route.

In the short run, of course, the shutting down of New Times isn’t going to send the editors of the LA Weekly on a dead run to the right. But in the long run, this is f-ed up news for freelancers, especially younger voices. There are less venues for new writers to break in, magazines have no incentive to keep competitive freelance rates, and editors can afford to get lazy. Hell, they already are! When’s the last time you read an article in an alt-weekly about a band you really cared about, let alone one that was *interesting*? In Los Angeles and Cleveland, your long odds have been doubled.

As it is, freelancers get treated horribly. Rates have gone down with many magazines in the past three years, and outlets have dropped. Accounting people take much longer to pay these smaller checks. (Not to mention the indignity of chasing after piddly checks from these disrespectful, brain-dead jerks.) Very nice, fresh interns are exploited to do more copy for free, squeezing out older, seasoned freelancers who get disagreeable about the increasingly shitty treatment they suffer.

Even before New Times jumped on the scene–a chain whose editorial content has shifted right to match its labor policies, alt-weeklies have discouraged, harassed, or destroyed unionizing in their shops. The biggest offenders include some of the most editorially liberal papers in the most liberal cities whose nice, liberal readerships would be shocked to know about their alt-weekly publishers’ shady history and continued thievery.

Readers who deserve outlets for what remains of independent weekly journalism (another topic for another screed) have not been helped by the corporatization of the field. The Village Voice Media company has eliminated a third of its titles in the last three years. And this rush towards economies of scale is not over. As one COO admits, “Maybe we’re just dumb, but we have never seen the economies of scale.” Bottom-line vultures believe the industry will only reach those economies when one company owns most of the papers. The article asserts, “banks and private equity firms backing the respective chains will expect to cash out within several years and one or both of the chains could be sold.”

Yeah, I’m kinda angry. Shouldn’t you be?


A funny note in the ongoing hip-hopization of the world. These guys at Headline News clearly have not read Fab 5 Freddy’s “Fresh Fly Flavor”.

posted by @ 8:59 am | 0 Comments

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