Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fighting for Pages.

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.


Magda said...

If ever there were a moment for me to shine on your sporty blog, this comment would be it. I enjoyed the article, however my own detailed thoughts on the futures of our publishing careers are too cumbersome / depressing to type out. Suffice to say, alt-weeklies in the 90s were amazing, important publications. I still enjoy their contributions, however I wish journalism (the public service, the craft -- not just the industry) would stop devolving into 22-year-olds doing Google searches.

Kevin Wesley said...

I understand what you're saying, Magda. Personally, I feel like the "greater" and once-meatier alt-weeklies that have been around for decades remain true to their public service, regardless of their thinning out. I like to think that I work for one of the publications that has maintained its sense of integrity, and I think Sanders is trying to make the point that the Guardian is also one of those.

While alt-weeklies of the 90s were undoubtedly important and comprehensive publications, they were also often oblivious to their general landscapes and almost unwilling to adapt to an obviously mutating market. So, now that they're thinner and not so exhaustive, readers are turning their noses up at them--the same readers who never would've barreled through a behemoth 10,000 word story on the city's sanitation woes.

So, who's to blame?

Magda said...

The Internet, duh.

Kevin Wesley said...

The perfect answer.

edwardallen said...

Could this comment forum be anymore boring? Get a room, you two.