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The Difference Between Daily Papers And Alternative Weeklies
It's in the guts department, for starters. For a sense of that, here's Nancy Nall Derringer, on the daily paper prissies.

When I was a grass-green rookie, an assistant managing editor at The Columbus Dispatch excised the word "funk" from one of my stories, on the grounds that I couldn't define it well enough for him -- you can't imagine a less funky man -- and it was only one letter away from the F-bomb. He thought I was trying to pull some sort of fast one. And so readers were spared the incendiary phrase, "clothes with funk and flash."

After 26 years in the business, I've become accustomed to editors less interested in readable stories than those rinsed of every possible word that might offend. One executive editor made a top-down decree against anything the dictionary listed as "vulgar," after an elderly woman called to complain about the phrase "the straight poop." He proudly announced this in a column; some days later, the word "snot" was struck from one of my own.

A syndicated writer told me she was asked to substitute "hips" for "butt" in a column on liposuction. Readers of a Florida paper a friend of mine works for could be forgiven for not knowing what, exactly, Monica Lewinsky did with Bill Clinton, because all sexual activity is referred to simply as "sex," so no phones will ring in the newsroom.

We could trade examples all day, but as we do, maybe we could spare a thought about how writers and editors accustomed to a leash this tight -- so tight they're running the public statements of a high-profile politician through the Bland-o-Tron, so that no one need be offended by the phrase "chocolate city" -- are ever going to make the transition to the wide-open, uncensored online world. Or, for that matter, to any world where Howard Stern can sell a million satellite radios and the readers newspapers most want to gain are well-acquainted with what "MILF" means.

No one's advocating newspapers start using the Big Seven. But can we maybe stop editing the paper for the 90-year-olds in the audience?

No, apparently, we can't. More on that from Scott Adams. And then there's my own experience. And PS, that was me, above, too -- in the "substituting hips for butt" example, in a joke about liposuction (I decided to use thighs instead, which was slightly less unfunny). Anyway, I did it because my editor told me daily papers, some of which run my column, consider "butt" "too vulgar" to use, and I find getting fired counterproductive. So, here's the line, and here's the substitution I included after the column:

In the meantime, vacationing with your best friend and hooking up with the cabana boy beats staying home and paying some doctor to inject your butt into your face.

STYLE NOTE, CONSERVATIVE PAPERS ONLY: Last para of answer, if you must, you can replace “butt” with “thighs.” If you must!

But, back to alt weeklies. Their bottom line is dependent on classifieds to a great extent, and they're terrified that Craig Newmark's will put them out of business, so what do they do? They invite him to be the keynote speaker at the west coast alternative weeklies conference, then debate and question him afterwards:


Craig Newmark speaking at AAN West

I was amused by this remark he made (which may not be word-for-word accurate, due to the time it took me to grope for a pen...but it's very close):

"You may suspect that I have no vision, I just respond to what people want...and that's accurate."

He mentioned this New York Magazine profile of him by Phillip Weiss, subtitled, How a schlumpy IBM refugee found you your apartment, your boyfriend, your new couch, your afternoon sex partner—and now finds himself killing your newspaper.

Since he's a fan of "progressive journalism," I mentioned to him after his talk that many of the alt weeklies are not as well-funded as he seems to think, and sometimes $65 a week in classifieds revenue for a couple months is the difference between staying afloat and going under. I also asked him to let the blogging world know if he finds a way around IP address anonymizers, so we can all finally figure out which little man has been posting under the name "Soupy" on Cathy Seipp's blog these past few years.

Posted by aalkon at January 30, 2006 11:27 AM

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Good economies often reward predators! That was the noise out of Detroit last week, right? Toyota is better at building cars than many of Ford's units and suppliers. Overall, prices fall, customers win, more people globally get jobs in the car business.

The Amy Alkons (and Marc Coopers and [until recently] EA Kaplans) are atypical bright spots... Mostly, alt-weekly newspapers give their space to outcall prostitution and 'laser vaginal rejuvenation.' It's a shame that so many people in this field might lose their jobs, but I hardly see why we should regard those incomes as sinecures, if their collapse nourishes better communication in the markets serviced by Newmark.

You and Cooper and Kaplan are likely to find your gifts highly transferable. The change may be inconvenient... Working as a TV tech in the early 21st, I sympathize. But the consumers price our work, and they're chasing value just as we are.

Ah, Monday morning. What's going on out there? Let's take a look:

Posted by: Crid at January 30, 2006 5:45 AM


(Hang on, this is gonna be a weird one)

In his book about the space program, Tom Wolfe had a passage about the physical layout of the postwar roadside motel, specifically the fact that visitors could enter their rooms without passing through a lobby. His point was that horndogs of diverse marital (and gender) status had found a venue for their couplings which demanded no gauntlet of shame. Close paraphrase: "This minor architectural feature did more than The Pill to encourage what has so primly been called the 'sexual revolution.'"

So it is with the internet. Two miracles make it happen.

Miracle one: A packet of data is a packet of data, and nobody cares what's in it. You can pay whatever rate you want for its delivery to your home. If you want to spend 7 years downloading an HD copy of Star Wars through your 1200 bps modem, that's your business, so long as you don't get caught. (A circa '93 article in the LA Weekly described the subterranean sewer system in LA: "This is where your shit gets mixed up with the Reagan's, and nobody cares which is which.")

Miracle two: Through both size and technical anomaly, these early years of this tool have given us the ILLUSION of anonymity. The courts and headlines are crackling with evidence that there's no such thing, not in Beijing, nor in the District of Columbia. But it was good while it lasted.

On Friday I downloaded two pieces of commercial anonymizing software. Presumably there's a record of this at the NSA.

PS- Soupy's an asshole.

Posted by: Crid at January 30, 2006 6:07 AM

Here's what bugs me -- that daily-paper editors so often go with the default "offend no one" position. And they seem to pore over their own newspapers to find the slightest thing that some theoretical senior citizen might be bugged by. An editor once showed me a picture of an Olympic beach volleyball player going up for a spike, and said, "What do you think? Will we get phone calls?"

"Over what?" I asked, scrutinizing the picture.

"Well, her bottoms are sort of hiked up," she said, pointing to the woman's leg, where yes, the player's uniform had ridden up slightly. It was a side view, though, and all you saw was an extra inch or three of her exceptionally long and well-muscled leg. "Do you think we'll get calls?"

I said, "No. But what if we do? Does anyone think to say, 'She's an athlete in an Olympic competition broadcast all over the world. This is her uniform. This is what it looked like. And it's not a dirty picture.'?" I got a blank stare. Defy a reader? Tell a reader they're wrong? They didn't teach that in pandering school!

But this is nitpicky stuff -- dirty words won't save newspapers, but I still contend that the same attitude that makes editors piddle down their legs at the thought of a few testy phone calls is not going to serve them well when the chips really are down, when the pictures are of dead contractors in Fallujah or corpses floating in New Orleans floodwaters, never mind uncomfortable truths and dangerous details in the copy.

People don't cancel their papers because they're outraged, someone once told me; they cancel because they're bored, because they notice the papers piling up unread next to the front door and think, "Why am I paying for this?"

Posted by: Nance at January 30, 2006 6:15 AM

Appropo of little- I been to the Oriental in Bangkok and the Waldorf Astoria is Manhattan, but here's the world finest hotel lobby:

(PS- It's in Indianapolis!)

Posted by: Crid at January 30, 2006 6:53 AM

I love that Hopper - have never seen it before. Reminds me of a Dorothy Parker play?...yes, I think so...about ladies d'une certaine age who live in a Manhattan residence hotel. Apropos of nothing, here's a DP quote:

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

Oh yeah, the play is The Ladies of the Corridor, a DP collaboration with Arnaud D'Usseau.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2006 7:18 AM

Why are youse guys so upset? Right here on this blog, was posted a thing like, "Remember when Bill Clinton went out with Monica Lewinsky?"

Offense has as a key ingredient one sacred cow!

Posted by: Radwaste at January 30, 2006 3:50 PM

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