Marc Cooper is the first LA Weekly staffer (he is News Features Editor) to let loose with detailed thoughts on the coming marriage of the paper's mothership Village Voice Media with New Times. He puts it in the larger context of so-called alternative media, where he has toiled for two decades, while lamenting the gradual loss of worthy and decently remunerative journalism outlets. Here are longish excerpts from Cooper's Tuesday night blog posting:
Like everyone else at the Weekly, I have no idea how this will change the paper. I suspect it will mean a lot of changes. I donít know what they are. Nor their intensity or character. But in pondering this merger of the two biggest chains of metro weeklies I think there are some realities that are overlooked in the notion that this simply spells the ďdeath of alternative journalism,Ē that this is necessarily some historic turning point.
Some thoughts, in no particular order:
"Alternative journalism," at least defined by the nostalgic vision of a lot of laid-back folks in earth shoes and turtle-necks working happily and lovingly late into the night to put out a spunky tabloid full of futon ads, died a long time ago. At least, if we are talking about publications with any real significance. The truly successful metro weeklies, L.A. Weekly, Village Voice, Phoenix New Times, the Boston Phoenix etc. etc. have been, corporate-run multi-million dollar entities for some time now.
Has that crimped their creativity? No doubt, in some ways. But the corporatization and professionalization of these same weeklies means that their writers and editors and free-lance contributors can earn real-word salaries, providing the means to do some pretty damn good journalism.
I donít know a single editorial employee of these outfits who longs for the good-old-days when they got paid $50 an article, if anything. Indeed, I am always amused when someone I know says he or she was shocked to learn that people who write for, say, the L.A. Weekly, actually can be paid well (Note that the Weekly pays about the same fee ó and sometimes more ó for a cover story as does the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine). Same deal for the New Times chain in which salaries are competitive with mid-sized daily newspapers. Reporters and writers in both chains are paid dignified salaries with good benefits and, for the most part, donít drive to work in dilapidated V-dubs with flower-power decals.
The Voice/L.A. Weekly papers are stolidly liberal-lefty and continue to keep a finger or two dipped into some nebulous conception of a counter-culture. Their cultural coverage is ample. The L.A. Weekly, more than the Voice, conitinues to put a lot of its resources into state, national and even international reporting. Sometimes the results provide excellent coverage that beats the mainstream media. Other times the pages are marred by a whiny, predictable politics of victimization.
The New Times chain, by contrast, takes pleasure in poking at pc-liberalism and by refusing to take partisan stands, fancying itself as libertarian lone-shooters. Sometimes the results are refreshingly unpredictable, hard-hitting exposes of politicians both conservative and liberal. Other times the product is sophomoric and snarky, lacking in any serious analysis. Local coverage by some New Times publications has admirably driven targeted pols to drink. On the other hand, the New Times Los Angeles (which closed down a couple of years ago) thought its readership couldnít or wouldnít focus on politics beyond the city limits and that was plain mistaken. The future success of the L.A. Weekly, under New Times corporate management, will depend to a great degree on what lessons were assimilated by the formerís short-lived experience as a Los Angeles publisher. The readers of the Weekly are a liberal, cosmopolitan audience, deeply concerned about politics at every level. They also demand robust and critical coverage of the arts Ė at least of the movies. Their tastes and expectations cannot be written off after a quarter century of picking up the Weekly every Thursday and anticipating a certain sort of paper.
Noting that he has worked for the Weekly twice, the Voice and New Times, Cooper writes that finding a good place that supports hard-edged reporting is becoming more difficult.
In the end, whatís at stake here is not the future of alternative journalism ó I have no idea what is meant by that term. Iím more concerned to know if there are going to continue to be any open venues where excellent, edgy, independent and powerful journalism will be supported and promoted. Itís been very hard to stably secure that space during my entire adult and professional life. The curve has been going in the wrong direction; everyone agrees itís been getting harder and harder. I imagine it will be even more difficult in the short and medium-term future, with or without this merger.
Also: Cooper has been announced as one of the editorial board members of Pajamas Media, the blog network to be launched by Roger Simon and Charles Johnson on Nov. 16. Others on the advisory board include:
-"Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds.
-CNBC's Larry Kudlow.
-Michael Barone, blogger and senior writer, U.S. News & World Report.
-David Corn, blogger, columnist and Washington, D.C. editor for The Nation.
-Claudia Rosett, journalist and blogger.
-Tammy Bruce, author, talk-show host and former president of the National Organization for Women's Los Angeles chapter.
-John Podhoretz, a New York Post columnist, Fox News contributor and blogger for the National Review Online's "The Corner."
-Richard Fernandez, a Sydney, Australia-based software developer and author of the widely-read "Belmont Club" blog.
-Jane Hall, an assistant professor at American University's School of Communication and weekly panelist of Fox News Watch.
-Dr. Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
-Clifford D. May, former correspondent and editor at The New York Times, now president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
-Tim Blair, an Australia-based blogging pioneer.
-Mark Steyn, internationally syndicated journalist covering global politics and current affairs.
-Adam Bellow, Random House editor and son of Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow.