1. The comfort of fellowship
I spent the weekend at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia in St. Petersburg, Fla. with a few dozen editors, publishers and sales folks from papers like ours across the country. I’ve been involved in the alternative press since 1994, and these events are a sort of homecoming for me and others still committed to the mission. In between sessions on digital products, data, storytelling and events, we swapped success stories, failures and industry gossip on a little strip of beach between the bay and the gulf.
2. The city
St. Petersburg is rich in natural beauty, with clean beaches and water everywhere, as well as bold new architectural projects rising near the downtown waterfront and a tremendous push towards fine art manifesting in murals, public works and some stellar exhibits. We toured the Salvador Dali Museum, the largest collection of the surrealist’s work outside of Europe and saw the Chihuly glass exhibit in a downtown gallery. On off hours, we wandered the downtown blocks and hung around the beachfront hotel, where we could watch the sun rise over the waters of Tampa Bay and set into the Gulf of Mexico.
3. The business
Like all media, the altweekly business is changing. But the news is good for the industry overall as we figure out more ways to tell great stories, enliven the cultural and business climate and perhaps make a few bucks while doing so. A mature altweekly looks a little like a boutique ad agency that puts out a weekly newspaper and holds events. It may sound complicated, but it all works together.
4. The future
The industry has been in flux for the past couple years. There have been some ownership changes through acquisitions and mergers; a few papers have gone under, some have ceased their print editions or gone to monthly models. But many are thriving, and for the first time in decades, new alts are springing up in under-served markets all over the country. It’s changed a lot from the days when all we sold was print ads and all our stories disappeared into the ether every week, but the mission is essentially the same as when I got my first clip published in an altweekly 25 years ago.