About a year ago, the paper began running zoned editions and when advertising sales in town are strong, I get bumped out of the city papers and only run in suburban areas. The editors blame the publishers and the publishers praise their business plan. Bottom line is that I have lost the popularity contest. (Perhaps I should have taken friends up on their offer to stuff the paper's "Best of Atlanta" ballot box.) Anyway, as far as I can tell, I rarely run in town anymore.
As I am constantly reminded by friendly readers, my disappearance also means the disappearance from CL of regular serious commentary from a gay perspective for the first time in many years. You can imagine that my sexual orientation alone does not make Headcase irresistible to Buford Highway immigrants and Alpharetta businessmen. The irony is that the vast majority of mail I receive now is from out-of-town readers. When I write political columns -- gay-themed or otherwise -- they are frequently picked up by other papers and Internet sites much better read than Creative Loafing's own. It's a weird situation. The column I wrote on Colin Powell and machismo resulted in requests to do radio interviews in two other cities, but practically nobody in Atlanta saw it.
Thus, every week, I'm confronted with the same question. Should I write something political that I know will be popular with people in other cities or something nonpolitical that, because I've lost CL's popularity contest, will get hurled into the vortex of Duluth and disappear?
I've been thinking about this more than usual since I read a report in the AJC about a new weekly, The Sunday Paper, that a former CL employee is launching next month. It's aimed at "upscale young adults."
He promises that the paper will have a more "positive" tone than left-leaning papers, by which he means CL, of course. In other words, it aims to take journalism-as-popularity-contest a step further. The paper is for insiders.
It was this comment by the new paper's editor, Conal Byrne, that particularly caught my eye: "Being an American and living in the United States is a good thing, and it is something to be proud of. We will not be constantly, ad nauseam, critiquing it to the point people don't feel good about it."
It would be hubristic to think Byrne could be talking about me, unless he lives in a Korean hood. But it is something I've heard as long as I've been writing for print. The difference is that until relatively recently, it was not something I heard from other media people. One expects to hear readers attempting to kill the messenger but not other journalists.
This idea that editorial content is appropriately driven by popularity polling is a radical departure from the notion of the press as the fourth estate that monitors the three branches of government. The alternative press originated in part to give a voice to outsiders and to perform as a watchdog of mainstream media -- not to capture the mainstream position.
As an example of how much things have changed, I recall editing CL back in the '80s. At one point, New York's Village Voice planned to start a paper here. I had several meetings with Voice people, who wanted me to edit the paper. Their idea was exactly the opposite of The Sunday Paper's. They wanted to give the city a much edgier, controversial publication -- and I was all for that but totally skeptical. Readers, research validated, wanted such a paper, but dislodging loyal CL advertisers was a pipedream, I told them. And, after some marketing research, they agreed and retreated.
Now, almost 20 years later, I am awestruck by the change. The business of journalism has always been market-driven but now to the extent that it is more important to give people material that enforces their world view or, on the other hand, is so inflammatory that it sells papers at the cost of deepening our nation's divisions.
My own experience, ironically because of my column's unfortunate fate, is that there is still a huge but dispersed appetite for critical thinking and outsider voices. And, here's the even more ironic part: One of my gigs outside CL is copy-editing a new Michigan weekly aimed at exactly the same audience as The Sunday Paper's. And, believe me, its editorial commentary is not flag-waving for dollars.
The change in publishing is all about the reductive minds of journalists and publishers, not readers. And, yes, I know I will be accused of over-generalizing my personal situation. But I am far from alone. And that's what I wanted to say to my Korean readers in Acworth this week.
Cliff Bostock is in private practice. Reach him at 404-525-4774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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