The mega-weekly comes to Seattle
The dangerous march toward monolithic media has now threatened the irreverent and vibrant alternative press. The latest assault on the independent...
The dangerous march toward monolithic media has now threatened the irreverent and vibrant alternative press. The latest assault on the independent press is the creation of a mega-chain of weeklies that stretch from Florida to Seattle.
The merger of Phoenix-based New Times Media and New York-based Village Voice Media, which owns the Seattle Weekly, is bad for democracy. The merger places 17 weeklies under the control of New Times, which will take the name of the company it cannibalized. The new Village Voice Media will have a free circulation of 1.8 million readers, or 24 percent of the circulation of the 126 weeklies that make up the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. The Department of Justice, which must approve such a far-reaching merger, should keep the public's interest in mind and reject the agreement.
For nearly three decades, independent newspapers, television and radio stations have been steamrolled by bottom-line-driven consolidation and corporatization. Now it is the turn of the alternative press to feel the cold grip of consolidation. Just as daily newspaper corporate behemoths like Gannett have too many tentacles in too many communities, the newly minted Village Voice Media has overstepped its bounds.
The folding of the Weekly into a large chain became nearly impossible to escape when local owners sold in 1997 to the Village Voice. Weekly editors, who have enjoyed autonomy since the sale, will now report to corporate in Phoenix, which will control 62 percent of the company.
The 11 New Times papers tend to look similar and do not weigh in on the public dialogue with political endorsements. This Phoenix-dictated approach is a stark contrast to the public discourse Seattle Weekly readers have come to expect since its founding in 1976.
So when does the "alternative" press lose its claim as the feisty underdog that is intensely connected to its community? Judging from the New Times/Village Voice's very corporate press release, which contained lines like "current portfolio of newspapers and online assets," any alternative in 17 cities died with Tuesday's announcement.
Readers are ill-served when newspapers cease to be viewed as newspapers but as assets in a portfolio. The consolidation of another layer of the press is a blow to democracy and a loss for Seattle.
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