Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Future of Alt Weeklies?

As a new member of the alternative weekly newspaper scene, I felt it my duty to sample the alt weeklies available in Northern California: East Bay Express, SF Bay Guardian and SF Weekly while on vacation last week.

Within their pages I found fewer arts & culture articles and fewer features than in our own dear Seven Days. However, I did find a hell of a lot more risque ads for escort services, "massage," and plastic surgery - eat your heart out American Apparel. As a biased observer, I would have to say that we hold up pretty damn well with these Bay Area behemoths, with fewer resources and a whole lot o' VT spunk.

Inside The SF Guardian was an interesting story about the San Francisco Chronicle (SF's equivalent of the Burlington Free Press) and the San Jose Mercury News laying off a quarter of their staff. Ironically, the Chron created a blog to help axed staffers find new jobs. Yes, the blog giveth, and the blog taketh away.

The Bay Area news market is about to be flooded with about 160 out of work reporters, not to mention more over-priced houses as fired journalists default on their mortgages. It is a sad state of affairs when the biggest paper in the area cannot afford to keep its employees and suffers from mysterious financial losses. And odder still, the Chron's online site, SF Gate, flourishes in the midst of these cuts.

Papers are in an awkward stage at the moment. The advent of online media is threatening to wipe out print journalism as we know it and yet, according to this article in the Guardian, paper's online sites such as the Chron's SF Gate have yet to rake in any sort of tangible profit.

Indeed, is among the most regularly visited newspaper sites in the country, and the model has greatly expanded the paper's readership. But Curley explained that local advertisers "don't necessarily want to reach someone in Zurich who might be interested in reading our political analysis." For most papers, online ads still generate remarkably little revenue." - Paper trail BY G.W. SCHULZ

So what is the future? Are blogs, vlogs, Craig's List and YouTube the future? Are skintennas next? During my time in SF, I had some interesting YouTube discussions that led me to believe that even The Mighty YouTube is struggling with the same financial insecurity beast of burden. They are not sure how to make money off their content yet either. No one is.

Will it all unfold like the first dot-com bubble and its inevitable POP? Will the airy quality of online media amount to miniscule profits and fade into the ether? And if so, what will take its place?

Well, being a vlogger, I have to stay positive and hope for the best. I mean, I look at it this way, where else can we go at this point but up? There is money out there, I can smell it, my Spidey sense is tingling!

There was another article in the SF Weekly about blogger Jeff Wolf who was recently let out of prison after spending 7 months there refusing to give video footage of a G8 protest to the government. Writer Matt Smith joked about the ambiguous lines drawn in the sand between journalism and "bloggerism" which are becoming more and more transparent these days.

Amateur blogger Josh Wolf last week revealed he'd become a professional journalist, in the process helping professional journalist Matt Smith emerge as an amateurish blogger.
- Stern Reprimand, Matt Smith

Cross-overs like this are bound to happen. I didn't go to journalism school but some journalists at WCAX joked to me that no one needs to anymore. If journalists want to be bloggers and vice versa, then which way is up?

During his seven and a half months of incarceration — the longest anyone has spent in jail protecting source — bloggers and writers for newspapers hotly debated whether Wolf was a "true" journalist or just a blogger, and thus whether or not he was truly fit for status as a journalistic martyr. Cogniscenti fretted: was Wolf a journalist, or a blogger, or an activist, or an anarchist, or something else? - Stern Reprimand, Matt Smith

Jeff Smith seemed a wee bit irked by this entire affair and you can see him speak about it in his video and blog. Read the comments if you have time, talk about snarky! Smith was accused by many as being sickly jealous of Wolf's marytr-status; well, who wouldn't be?!

Who knows what the future holds for alt weeklies, but for a bit of good fun, check out Jeff Wolf on Stephen Colbert (watch video). Stephen Colbert crossed over from comedy to TV to politics so I suppose anything is possible.

Jon Stewart for president!

PS And at the risk of tooting my own horn, I also noticed in my online perusals of these Bay Area alt weeklies, that not one of them had video content even close to the quality of Stuck in Vermont. Toot, toot!

PPS DAMN! Tooted too soon! I found Matt Petty's most awesome culture vlogs on SF Gate (figures). His videos are beautiful, inspiring and make me want to make art! WOW!

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