Alt weeklies keep shining in shifting media sector

By IssuuMay 22, 2015Editorial

comic, invasion of the media snatchers

As the latest finalists from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards were announced this week, it’s a perfect time to highlight the achievements of alternative publications as they embrace broad changes in consumer behavior and in their business.

Alt weeklies, as independent news and entertainment newspapers are known, are an indicator species in a community’s media ecosystem – and looking at the list of award entries, it’s a small wonder why. When they thrive, that usually means there is healthy demand from advertisers to stand out in the marketplace. Readers appreciate original stories and distinct voices. Aspiring artists and writers can start having their work published. Experienced artists and writers can work on subject matter a mainstream newspaper or magazine won’t touch. (A few members of the team at issuu, no surprise, have alt-weeklies as part of their backgrounds.)

Cultural coverage on arts, food and music is the core mission for alt-weeklies, but equally interesting is their function as a local watchdog and community conscience. This is how a story on confusion over public murals in Palm Springs, Ca., comes along with a feature on a television show in India that addresses issues of sexual violence. While major media brands dip their toes into discovering the so-called sharing economy, alt-weeklies actually dive into it. These publishers look for what the generalists are missing – whether a city can cope with a rise in homelessness or just tickets the indigent. They feed into a virtuous cycle that fuels awareness, insight and diversity in what is talked about and how we interpret the world.

Cities like San Francisco once could support at least two of these publications, with the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the SF Weekly trading (almost) as many barbs with each other as they did with the major downtown newspaper. What we have been seeing for some time, though, is that companies are still keen on reaching customers and readers are clamoring for diverse perspectives, but the effects of technology-driven disruption are real. Advertising dollars that went to print are going to digital, and at a lower cost. Social networks and mobile devices keep swallowing up readers’ time and attention.

When the Bay Guardian was bought by the SF Weekly’s parent and eventually shuttered last year, San Francisco lost an unapologetically opinionated publication. (The SFBG archives, we’re proud to say, live on at issuu.) Shortly after, the Bold Italic, a local site that stretched the parameters of digital storytelling and design, pulled the plug – showing that even being an online-only outlet has its challenges.

This is where issuu plays a role. Publishers like Chico Community Publishing, Gambit New Orleans and others produce award-worthy writing, commentary, art and design, while leveraging issuu to distribute their work on the platforms where people are increasingly consuming content. Millions of readers can stack publications and share articles or images directly on their social channels and explore new content on mobile devices, and publishers can better measure and monetize the product they’ve labored to make. This gives alt weeklies the ability to win over new readers that help fuel their creativity and supercharge their growth online.

At issuu, we’re committed to supporting innovation in publishing in any form. So to all the 2015 AAN Awards finalists, we want to say: Congratulations. You’re the reason we’re here, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.