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Alternatives to dailies: can't touch this.

Some big city dailies believe they've found the secret to attracting younger readers: Start an alternative weekly. In recent years, a handful have ventured into this hip, offbeat and vaguely left-wing world, a move that has elicited rebukes from their competition--the "real" alternatives.

Cole Campbell, managing editor of the morning Virginian-Pilot and the afternoon Ledger-Star in Norfolk, Virginia, says it makes sense for dailies to move into the alternative market. The papers' parent company, Landmark Communications, owns two alternative weeklies and recently sold two others. "What's really happening is that larger companies are trying to become more entrepreneurial," he says.

Since the Arizona Republic launched the weekly City Life in 1983, urban dailies have struggled to keep their weekly efforts afloat against entrenched independents. City Life died after three years, and similar ventures by the Chicago Sun-Times, Tampa Tribune and Milwaukee's Journal Communications were also short-lived.

But there have been successes. In Toronto, the eye (owned by Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star) is still publishing after 18 months, and Fort Lauderdale's XS, owned by the Tribune Company of Chicago (which also owns the city's daily Sun-Sentinel), has survived for more than two years. Buoyed by its success, the Sun-Sentinel last fall purchased ICE, a monthly in Palm Beach County that now appears twice a month.

The independents deride the dailies' efforts as "alternative lite." They argue that rather than printing the investigative pieces and press criticism that alternatives consider their trademarks, daily-owned papers simply showcase flashy layouts and soft features to create a friendly venue for advertisers.

"The dailies create heartless, soulless niche publications," charges Deborah Laake, executive managing editor of New Times Inc., which publishes alternatives in Phoenix, Miami, Dallas and Denver. "What we do is produce good journalism. We want to define our communities and show them from the underside."

The dailies scoff at the idea that alternative journalism is a privileged market. "They're looking at corporate ownership rather than the integrity of the paper," shrugs Stephen Wissink, editor and publisher of XS. "It's like American car makers not having any competition for years--then came the Japanese, who figured out how to do things cheaper and better. We're using color and going after the younger audiences, and we don't do ponderous stories."

That doesn't necessarily mean a lightweight approach, he adds. "We have the same convictions and the same passions."

Mitch Golub, development manager for the Sun-Sentinel Co., charges that the independents "hide behind this cloak that they're not mainstream." Many are comfortably profitable and more establishment' than they care to admit, he says. "Most daily papers would be more than happy to swap their profit margins with those of the alternatives."

Wissink notes that New Times papers are themselves a chain, and therefore can't claim complete independence. "New Times is much more of a corporate whore than I am," he scoffs.

What concerns independents, most of which rely on small business advertisers, is the dailies' ability to discount ad space. Jim Mullin, editor of the Miami New Times, notes that corporate weeklies also get price breaks on printing and office space from their owners. "The papers can grow without some of the pain suffered by the alternatives," he says.

In 1977, about 30 independent papers banded together to form the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In a preemptive strike last summer, the association, which now has 80 members, voted to forbid weeklies owned by dailies from joining the group.

The independents insist they're not afraid of competition, just skeptical that the dailies' weeklies can operate without meddling from above. "The dailies still see alternatives as an extension of their entertainment sections," says Ben Eason, publisher of Tampa's Creative Loafing. "Their approach is to throw a couple of people into the corner of the newsroom and tell them to produce an alternative. They can't break the rules."

XS Editor Wissink, a former Sun-Sentinel editor and reporter, and former Sun-Sentinel reporter Michael Ross Koretzky, the editor of ICE, say they resent the suggestion that the Sun-Sentinel has any influence on their editorial policies (although both papers have offices in Sun-Sentinel buildings). "They are not allowed in my newsroom, and I'm not allowed in theirs," says Wissink. "We have a mutual dislike and disrespect for each other."

The independents and their corporate counterparts have a similar relationship. "It's very validating for the alternative industry that these arrogant newspapers that ignored us for so long are now trying to emulate us," says Ray Hartmann, the publisher of St. Louis' Riverfront Times who recently completed a term as AAN president. "It will be even more validating if they fail."

The Book Bob Woodward Won't Write

"Once you write one book, publishers tend to pressure you to write another.... I remember Dick (Richard Snyder, CEO of Simon & Schuster) at one inopportune time pressuring me, saying, |Well, what's your next book? What are you going to be doing.?' And I said, |Actually, my next book is going to be on the publishing business in New York City.' He didn't miss a beat. |That's terrific, that's fine. I even have a good title.' As you all know, good titles are hard to come up with. The title for your book on the publishing industry in New York will be ... My Last Book.'"
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Title Annotation:interest of big city dailies in starting alternative weekly magazines scorned by independents who originated the idea
Author:Kent, Chris
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:879
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