Staffers and free-lancers at two West Coast alt-weeklies are nervously awaiting whatever unpleasant news comes with the sale of those papers to local conglomerates. Like all of the once-mighty urban weekly papers, the SF Weekly and Seattle Weekly are struggling to survive in a time when it’s not at all clear what these kind of publications are supposed to do when all of their one-time informational and advertising monopolies—music and movie listings, sex personals, roommate ads, alternative news, restaurant reviews, anti-Republican ranting—have moved online.
In both cities, the one-time New Times and then Village Voice Media/Voice Media Group-owned papers will go to local publishers. The San Francisco paper joins with other freebies including the Examiner and the Bay Guardian; the Seattle paper joins Sound Publishing, Washington state’s “largest community news organization.” Layoffs are inevitable, as the papers will merge much of their operations.
Just a decade ago, New Times was on a rampage, collecting alt-weeklies in major U.S. cities and beating the Village Voice chain to eventual death. Years of predatory advertising practices and Justice Department actions followed most everything the company did—including, incidentally, my own involvement as editor of a not-quite-real Los Angeles Examiner weekly that was intended to rise from the ashes of the New Times LA shutdown when the parent company acquired LA Weekly from Village Voice Media.
Moving the headquarters of “Village Voice Media” to Phoenix, Arizona, was just one of the company’s more obnoxious moves. (In August, the New York paper was even moved out of the Village Voice building.) Now, Village Voice Media is nothing but the Internet porn ads company Backpage.com; the alt-weekly newspapers themselves, including the Voice, were recently divested to a holding company that is now selling off the remaining pieces of a once-powerful alternative media empire.