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Alt-Weeklies and Localization

Aug 02 12:15 pm

by David Day

As an editor at an Alternative Weekly (Boston’s Weekly Dig in Boston, MA), I spent a lot of time thinking about how print can remain relevant. And I’m not talking about how it can compete with the internet or how we can get people to read more of it, but how to bring readers and businesses together.

The word magazine originally means “storehouse,” a store house of ideas and business leads, where the community can meet each other out on the street.

Then Localization began to take hold, and the proverbial light-bulb went off.

And it went off in the heads of editors across the nation.

While not all alternative weeklies can stand as true independents, Dig Boston most assuredly can. And, as I’ve learned recently, it’s only newspapers which are truly independent who can truly support localization.

I don’t need to tell you how obvious Localization is the way forward-you’re reading this website, after all-but I can tell you that the future of print, in fact, the only future of print, lands squarely in line with the mission of localization.

At the recent AAN convention, where the alt-weekly community gathers to discuss ideas, Jody Colley of the East Bay Express in Oakland gave an inspiring presentation about Localization.

She began with this:

Then Jody moved through the shocking number of things her newspaper is doing to support localization (as she called it). She asked for help passing around a Local First guide, then a Eco Metro Guide, then a Buy Fresh Buy Local guide, then a Local Film Festival guide, and so forth (even a Local Coloring Book page). It was astounding.

But perhaps more astounding was the reaction of the crowd of publishers who had gathered in the massive ballroom. Silence. Despite a few eager participants, myself included of course, Colley was met with a stone wall of silence. It was shocking to me and it’s taken me a little bit to process the info, but now I have realized the main concern was that

Most of the other alt-weeklies in attendance, the ones who were silent, were not independents.

To a corporate-owned alt-weekly, Localization is frightening as hell. They will have to give up the multi-million dollar ad deals with their corporate buddies. They will need to get to know the local business owners. They will need to go out into the streets again and, you know, sell ads.

It strikes me as the difference between something like a Local First group and a Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, like the mammoth, listings-stuffed, whore-ad driven alt-weekly, is looking for the big fish. They want to bring the Ikea to town, they will meet eagerly with Home Depot or Target. But maybe not us, and certainly not Local First. To focus on rebuilding the economy and, ultimately, all of our own bank accounts, shopping local is crucial. It is beyond neccesary, it is the only way forward.

So alt-weeklies like Jody’s, and like the Dig, have to give up the full-page ads for the giant new box shop, and fill them with smaller ads for local businesses. It means working harder, but it also means fulfilling the true mission of a magazine-being the storehouse.

That is not to say the corporate weeklies won’t come around to Colley. Indeed, I would expect her talk at AAN 2011 to be packed to the rafters with cheering publishers.

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