Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Identity Crisis

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

As the oldest of them push past 40, alternative newspapers are still trying to figure out what they're going to be when they grow up. Like many another baby boomer watching his belly spill over the waistband of his Relaxed Fit 550 Levi's, part of the alternative press despairs that its g-g-generation has lost its fire and become exactly the complacent middle-class American booboisie it loathed. Meanwhile, another, and growing, part of the alt-press scorns those one-time pioneers as nostalgia-befogged, aged hippies who squandered their youth on empty indulgence when they should have been fully funding their IRAs and celebrating their final mortgage payments with appletinis.

As we researched this month's cover story, my colleague Jennifer Saba and I were reminded there's a class war going on in the alternative press. Alternative papers are moving in several different directions -- and they all have something snide to say about where the other guy is going. This is an intramural contest among papers that consider themselves the "real" alternatives, not those free papers created by mainstream dailies they dismiss as "faux alternatives."

We made a point of ending our interviews with a seemingly simple question: What the heck is an alternative paper these days, anyway? We got many conflicting answers, but the responses tended to cluster around two opposite poles that could be personified by two well-known figures in the alternative press.

In one corner is San Francisco Bay Guardian co-owner/Editor Bruce B. Brugmann, who in 1965 launched an alternative that defined the type: loud, aggressive, left-leaning -- and a scourge of the hometown dailies. For four decades, the Guardian has unapologetically tilted against windmills, sometimes literally, as in its decades-long campaign to impose city ownership on the local utility company.

In the other corner is Michael Lacey, who as executive editor of the largest chain of alternatives, Village Voice Media (VVM), has brought discipline to the business and journalism of alt-papers. Think global if you'd like, Lacey tells his journalists, but keep it to yourself, bub. Hit the streets and write local.

"Our readers already have opinions -- they don't need someone who is posing as the sophomore in the dorm room philosophizing on what it means," Lacey says. "Our guy isn't going to sit there and gas on about something. He's going to dig something up."

Like many polar opposites, Lacey and Brugmann share more characteristics than perhaps they'd care to acknowledge. …

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