Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Is the Internet killing the alt weeklies?

On Aug. 9, (yes, I know that I'm trying to catch up here), the Times reported that the Village Voice laid off six staffers in a restructuring effort. James Barron writes:

"As it approaches its 50th anniversary next year, its publisher says that advertising "could be better," though its editor in chief says it is profitable. And it is coping with the Internet and newfangled competitors like craigslist.com, whose listings have done for a new generation of apartment-hunters what The Voice's classifieds did for their parents, or even their grandparents."

Farther down, we hear from Donald H. Forst, the Voice's editor in chief:

"The restructuring situation is tied into our efforts going from a weekly product to, with the Web, daily journalism electronically, in which we're putting stuff up on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis," he said. "The restructuring is putting new resources there, to the Web site, while at the same time maintaining the paper."

So in essence, the Voice is rebranding itself as a diversified media outlet with Web and print components, a daily, as opposed to weekly, cycle and—let us not forget—a smaller editorial staff.

Is this a good thing? On one hand, there are some things that just work better on the Web. Classifieds and listings obviously work better in a dynamic medium, where you can search by keyword or other parameters. The same is true for restaurant, music and film reviews: it makes much more sense to keep reviews in a permanent, searchable archive than it does to dribble them out weekly. And it’s the classifieds, listings and reviews that are the bread and butter of the alt weekly industry. So it makes sense that, as this sort of content shifts to the Web, the print side starts losing money.

But what's getting really squeezed here is the alt weekly's biggest contribution to journalism—the long-form narrative/investigative piece, the kind of stuff pioneered by Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Paul Krassner. What we have instead now snippets—news of the weird, 600-800 word political rants and ironic essays on cock rings and '80s pop culture—all churned out daily, or hourly, by an ever-shrinking news team.

For a different take, check out Matt Welch's excellent piece in the Sept./Oct. 2003 issue of CJR.

In: Having an arrangement

Out: Having a breakdown


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