The Stranger's Eli Sanders recently wrote an absorbing feature on the San Francisco alt-weekly debacle that's been escalating since 1995 when Phoenix's New Times (now of Village Voice Media fame) decided to pit its recent purchase, SF Weekly, against the San Francisco Bay Guardian for absolute bay area supremacy. As you begin plodding through the sprawling column (weighing in at around 11,000 words), it becomes evident whom Sanders is siding with. His allegiance is obviously with the Guardian, which was founded in 1966 and has since been locked arm-in-arm with the ever-burgeoning city through decades of both progression and controversy. Whether you interpret it as such or not, Sanders reveres the Guardian as a San Francisco institution that quite frankly deserves better than to be undercut by a brash, uneducated entity with its eyes set on extinction, not coexistence. I agree with him.
The Chicago Reader (my alt-weekly and employer) has gone through similar trials and tribulations since 2007 when it was bought by Creative Loafing, a small alt-weekly chain owned by Ben Eason that attempted to branch out by purchasing both the Reader and the Washington City Paper and ultimately failed (well, Eason failed when he went straight bankrupt). Creative Loafing is still in tact, however, minus the Eason clan and is now owned by its once largest creditor, Atalaya Capital Management. The Creative Loafing alt-weekly chain consists of papers in Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Charlotte, and Sarasota. Since Atalaya won the chain in an auction in August of 2009, Creative Loafing has been an ever-changing beast, adding and subtracting publishers, marketing gurus, and CEOs.
Sounds pretty confusing and boring, huh? Well, maybe it is, but the parallel I'm trying to draw between Sanders' column is that these institutions (and mind you, the Reader is a 40-year-old Chicago institution) are beginning to get undercut, regardless of their reputations. Is it right? No. Do these fluff-driven, chain-building conglomerates give a shit? No. Whether it's internal or external, it's damn frightening and the publishing industry is weak and cracked enough to let them weasel in. The fight may come, but it often means taking a few good pops to the jaw.
Make sure to read The Great West Coast Newspaper War by Eli Sanders. It's fantastic.