The Great West Coast Newspaper War
March 20, 2010 8:10 AM   Subscribe

The alt-weekly newspaper war in San Francisco - The titanic struggle between The Bay Guardian and SF Weekly (owned by Village Voice Media), as told by Eli Sanders of Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger.
posted by Artw (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Print Ragnarök
posted by carsonb at 8:21 AM on March 20, 2010

This quote from the article sums it up:

"They really are fighting over something that is a dead issue now. Because the model of journalism that these guys are fighting over is in deep trouble. They really are the last two tyrant-osaurs, long after the asteroid hit the planet."

What are the chances that either of these companies are still in print five years from now?
posted by octothorpe at 8:22 AM on March 20, 2010

And it should be noted that The Stranger isn't exactly an unbiased narrator.
posted by dw at 8:26 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

While we're on the topic of origins and connections between weeklies, this is a good place to point out some things about The Stranger, founded in 1991 in Seattle by Tim Keck, who had moved to the city from Wisconsin after cofounding and then selling his stake in the Onion. The alt-weekly world, for all its growth over the years, remains relatively small. The Stranger's editorial director, Dan Savage, writes a weekly syndicated sex column that now runs in every VVM paper except Seattle Weekly, which is The Stranger's direct competitor; The Stranger gets national advertising through a relationship with a national advertising group called Voice Media Group, which is owned by VVM; The Stranger's ownership structure, like VVM's, makes use of LLC protections (though it has only one LLC in its ownership structure, many fewer than VVM possesses); like the Bay Guardian, The Stranger has minority owners, though none associated with the Church of Satan as far as we know; some Stranger employees used to work for Seattle Weekly, though not me; and The Stranger's owners operate one other weekly newspaper, the Portland Mercury, making them arguably the owners of a chain of alt-weeklies, if two links can be considered a chain.
posted by Artw at 8:29 AM on March 20, 2010

Both of these rags are incredibly tedious and have been for years. But they still get attention, and when politicians run for election in SF, they either court these papers or make a public display of how assiduously they are not going to court them. So I wouldn't be surprised if they're still around 5 years from now, squawking irrelevantly and littering Market Street.
posted by blucevalo at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

VVM is also invested in blogs like topless robot, so even with print fading I'd expect them to be around in a Gawker like capacity for some time.
posted by Artw at 8:44 AM on March 20, 2010

the model for the newspaper industry has been "run in red ink until you are the last one standing and then rule a local monopoly." the size of the town or the size of the paper doesn't seem to have much influence on how the game is played. and the last act in this drama usually boils down to a quiet folding or a bloody legal battle (sometimes both at once.)

The end result is a single-paper town where the advertisers become rate payers of a natural monopoly utility rather than customers in a market.

And the media gets owned by a combination of advertisers like real estate, grocery stores and car dealers (which is the typical small city advertising market.) Or in the case of alternative weeklys, the local food and entertainment biz.
posted by warbaby at 8:56 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

nobody here who matters is reading the weekly. move along.
posted by clyde at 9:34 AM on March 20, 2010

Or in the case of alternative weeklys, the local food and entertainment biz.

You forgot the gratuitous and quasi-pornographic escort ads. Display-stuff a purse you eventually sell to a 12-year-old with a Village Voice once and you will never forget this fact.
posted by griphus at 9:37 AM on March 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's a measure of how bad San Francisco journalism has gotten that the "newspaper war" is between two free prostitute-ad-funded rags that, at best, write two original articles a week.
posted by Nelson at 9:44 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

On one side there's Michael G. Lacey, 61, the executive editor and a co-owner of Village Voice Media, a self-described "prick".

I worked for VVM for years. I once had a meeting (in San Francisco, in fact) with Lacey and a lot of other people at my level in the chain which ended with Lacey saying, and I quote, "and if you can't do it, I'll fire your ass." So, yeah.

And I still have a lot of friends in the chain, most of whom have had their salaries cut or capped and are now doing double duty, putting out a paper and blogging at the same time. Blogging on the deck of the Titanic.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:46 AM on March 20, 2010

prostitute-ad-funded rags

Every daily newspaper in the country was funded until the last two years by inch-thick real estate advertising supplements and it just so happened that their business sections missed a wild overvaluation of real estate obvious to even the dimmer small children out there. I'll take the hooker ads, thanks.
posted by enn at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2010 [15 favorites]

griphus: that's entertainment
posted by warbaby at 10:57 AM on March 20, 2010

I'll take the hooker ads, thanks.

It's another measure of how bad journalism has gotten that the prostitute-ad-funded papers seem more reputable now than the real-estate-ad-funded papers.
posted by Nelson at 11:17 AM on March 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I guess I just don't see the big deal about being prostitute-funded (although Thursday, when they came in to pay for their ad, was always an interesting day at my old paper). A conflict of interest when investigating fat-cat pimps? Burying stories about the condom-industrial complex? I promise you that restaurant ads in the food section lead to more journalistic problems than the call girl ads.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:34 AM on March 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's another measure of how bad journalism has gotten that the prostitute-ad-funded papers seem more reputable now than the real-estate-ad-funded papers.

It's less that their journalism is bad, so much as increasingly irrelevant on the level of Pravda. Those prostie-ad-funded papers actually do local coverage of local matters. Something that reputable AP-excerpt-reprinting newspapers don't do much of anymore, due to consolidations and budget cutbacks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:50 PM on March 20, 2010

Pravda is where I get all my Siberian big-foot news!
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a great number of words that I could expend on this topic, but I think I'll just say that I know and like Bruce Brugmann, and I wish him well.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 4:49 PM on March 20, 2010

... that was a pretty interesting read.
posted by ph00dz at 5:51 PM on March 20, 2010

Wow, looking at related posts Craigslist doomed Bay Area print media FIVE YEARS AGO.
posted by Artw at 8:08 PM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't understand Alt weeklies.

Really. I don't. I see these things, and they're like 15 pages of content, and 90 pages of ads. Ads for music, food, girls, whatever. It's just ad density, vastly beyond anything even the worst pop up ad generator could assemble.

I just don't get why this is interesting to anyone.
posted by effugas at 2:49 AM on March 21, 2010

Tedious and irrelevent they may be, but at least both the Weekly and the Bay-Guardian are better than the Examiner, the pigeon of alt-newspapers: aggressive, stupid, and relentlessly littering the city with its droppings.
posted by granted at 3:35 AM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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