DOES the alternative press have a future? Do these papers still matter to their cities? And how much of that future will be corporate controlled? Those are some of the topics that an editor at the Baltimore City Paper gets into in a smart op-ed today.
Alt-weeklies have had a hard time of it over the last few years, Baynard Woods writes, describing the closing of the Boston Phoenix and the cutbacks at the Village Voice and others. Digital utopians say the web will replace them, prove that they’re obsolete.
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.
The City Paper has now been bought by the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which is both troubling and not unique: Several Connecticut alt-weeklies have been taken over by the Hartford Courant. The New Times chain — now called Village Voice media — owns a large number of weeklies, many once independent, around the country.
The alternative press, and the Baltimore City Paper in particular, are close to my heart: I began reading the Village Voice, as well as the Baltimore and D.C. City Papers, as a club-going teenager. To some extent, papers like this drove me into journalism. I’m also fond of the Baltimore Sun, the paper that employed my father for almost three decades. And I worked for New Times’ now-shuttered LA paper for five years.
How will mainstream ownership change the City Paper? Woods tries to be optimistic.
The Baltimore Sun Media Group says that City Paper will maintain its independence. That’s good news if it is true. And it’s not as if anyone wants to stay with the status quo: Last week we fought a series of battles with our old owner (and current owner, until the sale goes through), Times Shamrock, which has killed several critical reviews and stories for questionable reasons, then, when the staff protested, blocked reporters and editors from going on the website or social media.
Not long ago, I tried to assess the state of the alternative press here. I get into, among other things, how important the alt-press has been for arts and culture writing.
ALSO: One of the things the alt-press has historically done far better than the mainstream press is cover alternative- and indie-rock. So (forgive the forced segue) I’ll mention that Atlas, /the new record by Real Estate, the New Jersey indie band that really needs a better name, is making me swoon. Somewhere between the Byrds and Yo La Tengo, they’re effortlessly melodic and endlessly fresh. Here is a link to a video from NPR’s Tiny Desk concert.