Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Consider the Alternatives

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Consider the Alternatives

Article excerpt

In the good old antiwar days, "underground" weeklies such as the Phoenix New Times were the proud "alternative" to the tame "establishment" press, and their mission was clear: not just to write about the world, but to change it. No longer, observes Bates, a staff writer for The Independent, a locally owned alternative weekly in Durham, North Carolina. Grown so prosperous that corporate chains now compete fiercely to buy them, many alternative papers have put their radicalism behind them. Instead of fighting capitalism, they are embracing it,

Founded by college students and dropouts in 1970 as a vehicle of antiwar protest, New Times has evolved into a national chain, New Times Inc. It owns eight alternative weeklies, from Miami to San Francisco, as well as an advertising group that represents six other papers. In the early years, New Times was put out by a nonhierarchical collective, whose members each made $55 a week. Today, writers for the chain's papers get annual salaries of $35,000 or more, while in 1995 cofounders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, according to an internal memo, each pulled down $300,000.

New Times Inc. "still takes on everyone from corporate polluters to corrupt politicians," Bates reports, "but it also takes pains to distance itself from its radical past." Not all alternative papers had any radical past to shed, Bates notes. "Many evolved from free shoppers, campus entertainment listings and record store promotions, devoted to cashing in on the young, hip, urban demographic that movement papers had helped forge. …

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