FOR the last few months I’ve been meaning to revisit some of the abiding concerns of this blog and the book that inspired it. Mostly, I’m talking about what we used to call the press and now typically describe as the news media. My overall sense is that some parts of the creative economy have healed since I began writing my book in the teeth of the recession and published it in 2015. But the press — not just the daily press but the alternative weeklies that I began reading as a teenager and then writing for in my 20s — have not much recovered.
This slow decline (which I wrote about five years ago, after the shuttering of the Boston Phoenix) reached a startling point a few days ago, with what seems like the final death of the Village Voice and the instant layoff of most of its staff. (Those left will, apparently, only be there to digitize past content.) The news has now been reported quite widely, with this remembrance by the New Yorker’s art critic Peter Schjeldahl — a three-time Voice scribe — probably my favorite. (The LA Weekly, a once-excellent paper bought a year ago by a group of Orange County Libertarians with shaky credentials and a cagey relationship to the truth, may be headed for a similar collapse due to a tidal wave of conflict of interest and at least one lawsuit between the news owners.)
But perhaps the most complete piece yet on the alt-press meltdown just appeared on the personal blog of a writer and editor many miles from New York City. Its author, North Carolina-based Mark Kemp, is known to music journalists and attentive readers for various stints, including running the magazine Option during indie rock’s early ’90s heyday, a brief tenure at Rolling Stone, and recent leadership positions at Acoustic Guitar magazine and the Creative Loafing chain of Southern alt weeklies. (I barely know the guy, but have respected his work for a long time.)
In any case, Kemp has posted a wide-ranging piece on his blog that all interested parties should know about. It kicks off this way:
WHEN I WAS laid off from my job as editor-in-chief of the North Carolina alt-weekly Creative Loafing Charlotte in 2013, my staff had just wrapped up an exciting and productive political season culminating in CL‘s coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in our hometown. The layoff surprised me. It was the first time I had been canned after doing great work. In previous years, working hard and producing engaging journalism had led to promotions or better positions at other companies.
From here he gets into the demise of the Voice, the larger forces at work, a few bright spots in the media ecology, and his hopes for the future.
At times I think Kemp is being overly optimistic, but for a guy who’s been though a number of ups and downs, whatever optimism he’s emerged with is hard-won and deserves to be heard. In any case, please read his piece, and understand that despite our president’s crowing about a raging economy — which is indeed quite strong in some quarters, and especially comfortable for rich folks who own real estate or a lot of company stocks — the rising tide has not lifted all boats. Does it matter to the rest of the world? I’ve had my say on the matter and will leave it to the above pieces to make that case. Meanwhile, I thank Kemp for a well-argued piece.