City Paper Editor Writes Opinion on the Future of Alt Weeklies for the NYTimes

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By now you’ve probably heard about the sale of the Baltimore City Paper to The Baltimore Sun.  The ensuing brouhaha (read City Paper’s Joe MacLeod Goes Down in a Blaze of F-Bombs) has received national press, including the below opinion in today’s New York Times written by Baynard Woods, senior editor at the City Paper. 

Woods makes many good points about the city’s need for an alt weekly, but I posit that he need not condemn websites in order to make his case.  Isn’t there room for both?

Good luck City Paper. We’re rooting for you. – SD 

Are Alt Weeklies Over?

By Baynard Woods

When the Baltimore Sun Media Group recently announced that it was buying the Baltimore City Paper, the local alternative weekly where I work as an editor, the prognosis for aggressive, independent journalism in Baltimore was pretty grim. Tom Scocca, a reporter who used to work at City Paper, declared that the city was now one step closer to being a “zero newspaper town.”

This glum outlook is understandable after the recent demise of venerable alt weeklies like The Boston Phoenix, which closed last year, while standard-bearers like The Village Voice have fired many of their most popular writers, like the longtime gossip columnist Michael Musto.

Many have been bought by corporate conglomerates, then thinned out and tamed. Not that we get much sympathy: For many people, the alt weekly as a genre is already passé, rendered irrelevant by the rise of the Internet.

But an alt weekly is connected to a city in the way that a website can never be. In Baltimore, somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the population doesn’t have regular Internet access. The glib techno-utopians who not only foresee a paperless tomorrow, but also lobby for a paperless present, are ready to forget about these people. Alt weeklies might not always reach everyone in the city, but at least, like the dailies, they try to be available and relevant to everyone.

For example, next week members of the Single Carrot Theater will convene to read from Murder Ink, a column in City Paper that details every single homicide in the city. Anna Ditkoff, a reporter for the paper, started the series in 2004 because many of Baltimore’s murders were ignored by the rest of the media. That year there were 276; last year there were 235.

Alt weeklies also report on the cultural life of a city in a way that neither big daily papers nor websites can. Certainly, daily papers have come much closer to alt weeklies, since they have begun to cover popular music and even some underground culture. And the mainstream media has long drawn on alt-weekly voices to staff their star writing spots: David Carr, Katherine Boo and Susan Orlean all got their starts at alt weeklies.

But big dailies are also being squeezed to cut costs by their corporate overlords, and when they trim, their targets are typically the seemingly marginal, underground and emerging beats that alt weeklies specialize in. And while there are some great hyperlocal websites, the whole idea of the Internet — untethered to geography, universal in topic and voice — pushes against the sort of groundedness that alt weeklies provide.

Read the rest of the opinion at nytimes.com



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