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Aug. 24, 2017, 12:06 p.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   August 24, 2017

It’s a turbulent time for America’s alt-weeklies. The storied Village Voice’s announcement on Tuesday that it was ending its print edition spurred many eulogies and analyses and oral histories, but the Village Voice’s change comes after a spate of other alt-weekly closures: Just last month, Baltimore City Paper and Tennessee’s Knoxville Mercury (itself a replacement for the alt-weekly Metro Pulse, which E.W. Scripps closed in 2014) said their goodbyes within a week of each other.

There are now just over 100 free, alternative weekly papers still publishing in the U.S. (The Village Voice, of course, will continue publishing online.) So what do cities lose when these papers shutter? And what alternatives have emerged online in their absence, if any? Direct digital replacements will have a tough go of it, argued David Dudley in the Atlantic’s City Lab:

The thing the Voice and its descendants gave readers was something more important than the occasional scoop: They served as critical conveyors of regional lore and scuttlebutt and intel. Dailies may have told you what was going on; alt-weeklies helped make people locals, a cranky cohort united by common enthusiasms and grievances. The alternative media was the informal archive of the city’s id, a catalog of fandom and contempt that limned the contours of the populace. And this part of their role, as it turns out, is a lot harder to replace in the digital era….the paper really did function as a kind of urban commons, a place where all residents felt they had earned an equal say, simply be dint of living here. The migration to digital and the rise of social media atomized this audience, and the online startups that have emerged since have not been able to reassemble it.

Still, some of the spirit of alt-weeklies have migrated online, in part because many of the newer voices writing online used to work at alt-weeklies, LION executive director Matt DeRienzo told Poynter: “Some local independent online news sites take a similar approach and share the DNA of alt-weeklies — free to do deep, investigative pieces, providing counterpoint to the missteps of legacy media, and serving as a guidebook to the arts, entertainment and culture of their communities.”

The Tyler Loop, a hyperlocal online publication for Tyler, Texas launched by two journalists with national experience who are Tyler transplants, is hoping to become one of those alternatives. Co-founder Tasneem Raja told the Lab back in April:

When we first started thinking what we wanted to see, just for ourselves as people who live here, we kept talking about how Tyler needs something like an alt-weekly: the place in town that’s going to go deep on issues like income inequality, segregation, environmental issues. So not just, “Hey, this thing just happened,” but “Hey, this thing happened, here’s why you should care, and here’s the bigger context.”

For the online incarnations of alt-weeklies, crowdfunding and nonprofit status have replaced the ad-funded model which kept print alt-weeklies free:

The Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism was launched earlier this month by City Paper editors Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, along with radio host Marc Steiner. The crowd-funded effort to replace the City Paper has raised $4,735 so far from 76 backers which, the team says, it will not use to “to buy a building or rent an office or pay a big staff”.

The project is modeled on a similar effort in Boston. After the closure of the Phoenix in 2013, a worried Chris Faraone, editor of Dig Boston, co-founded the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism to fund his alt-weekly. In its first two years it has raised $250,000.

…A thousand miles away in Little Rock, editor Lindsey Millar looks to Faraone’s nonprofit as a model for his own, a spin-off from the Arkansas Times. The alt-weekly is “the only progressive voice” in the die-hard red state, says Millar. “A lot of people don’t read us on principle.”

The death of the newspaper business, by Thomas Hawk. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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