.Long Live the Alt-Weekly

Notes on survival in an age of hungry beasts

I’ve never been more proud to be an Enemy of the People than this week at the Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, our sister paper in Marin. The Pacific Sun turned 55 this year and the Bohemian turned 40, which means we’re five years away from over 100 years of continuously published news and arts in the North Bay.

That’s something. Papers come and go, and go again.

On a personal note, it’s been an interesting ride. When I started in this business, in 1989, one of the most rewarding aspects of membership in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (now Newsmedia), was that the papers in the organization would send their issues out to all the other papers via snail-mail. So when you’d come to work, alt-weeklies from around the country, Creative Loafing, The Stranger, The Chicago Reader, would be available to get ideas from, send résumés to, and flat-out just enjoy reading.

We’re a quirky lot, those of us who’ve stayed in the alternative universe over the years—a place to indulge the obsessive whim, report the scam, riff on the accepted wisdom of the day. The shared-newspaper arrangement provided a sense of belonging to the imperfect muckrakers and misfits who populate this vital corner of the publishing world. It went out the window years ago as alt-weeklies looked for places to shave costs in an ever-shifting media landscape that, since the late ’80s, has been dancing with digital, and not always so successfully. And besides, nowadays you can just jump online and check out what the other papers are up to.

This paper has a storied history and a long-standing bias to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted. The team here is doing its level best to hold up the traditions, and will continue to do so until they take this stubby pencil out of my cold, dead hands. The Bohemian started out as The Stump, became the Paper, morphed into the Independent, and finally became the Bohemian when purchased by our chain. We’re part of a group of papers that has survived all the recent, crushing moments in media—recessions and buyouts and Craigslist, and the digital dilemma that requires a daily engagement with the online beast that must be fed.

These old archives we’ve been going through to produce this issue are a bracing reminder of the critical role and vitality of community-based news-gathering and cultural reporting—and the power of the press, of newsprint, to make a difference in our chosen communities—while also letting readers know where to get some choice dim sum on the cheap. And on that note, I believe that it’s lunchtime again in America. Long live the alt-weekly!


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