Three alt weeklies bow out in one week


Map key: Red – Closed in 2014; Purple – Closed in 2013; Yellow – Closed in 2012; Green – Closed in 2008

When considering a journalism career’s progression, I like to think of the news career ladder in terms of the Daily Planet.

You have your four basic news staffers: the Jimmy Olsen, who is wet behind the ears, has zero idea what he’s doing but is just excited to work in a newsroom.

The Clark Kent, who is a moderately competent reporter with a few years under his belt — but he’s not going to win any Pulitzers.

Then you have the Lois Lane. She’s the cream of the crop in the journalism world. She will expose corruption, win awards for her reporting and protect democracy with every word she writes.

Finally, you have the Perry White — the cynical, old-school journalist who is a newsroom leader, knows the strengths and weaknesses of the journalists in his employ and uses that knowledge to produce an amazing news product.

To get to the Perry White stage of journalism, everyone have to start as Jimmy Olsen. My Jimmy Olsen stage wasn’t with a major daily newspaper like the Planet or even a broadcast outlet.

I started as a stringer for C-VILLE Weekly in Charlottesville, Virginia. My few clips there, which were edited with an expert and heavy hand, helped me gain admission to the University of Nebraska’s graduate journalism program. While in that program, I interned for another alternative weekly — The Reader in Omaha, Nebraska.

For many journalists, the alt weeklies are a place they can learn the ins-and-outs of news while still not quite growing up. The alt weekly staffers are professionals through and through, with the energy and diligence of a German Shepherd puppy tasting bacon for the first time.

The world lost three alt weekly newspapers last week. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Providence Phoenix and Metro Pulse all came to an end.

In 2014 alone, I’ve counted five alt weeklies closing their doors. The Grid in Toronto and Real Detroit Weekly also came to their own ends.

I’ve counted at least 13 alt weeklies that have closed since 2008, including Boston Phoenix, Urban Tulsa Weekly and Honolulu Weekly. Alt weeklies clearly are not immune to the same struggles as its newspaper cousins that publish daily.

The news ecosystem is different from the days when the alts thrived. Like any legacy media product, they must evolve to survive in this new world. I hope the current generation of alt weekly staffers, freelancers and interns aren’t the last to sharpen their teeth in that journalism arena.

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