MEMO TO LOUIS BLACK, EDITOR OF THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
If it helps, Louis, imagine I look like this -- Tony O.
At your suggestion, I'm meeting with SXSW's Rebecca Feferman Friday morning, and I look forward to it.
Again, it was great to hang out with you in Toronto, which for me is the primary reason I go to AAN conventions -- to meet fellow editors and see if we can't help each other out in some way. For example, at that dinner we attended with David Carr, I had a great conversation with Tim Keck, publisher of The Stranger, and he and I explored some ideas for how we could join forces for a future event.
In hindsight, that trip to Toronto was really worth it for an editor who, like others, is looking for more ways to maximize the web, hold on to our traditional dedication to investigative journalism, and still have fun in a difficult economic era. Throwing back beers with fellow AAN members and telling war stories every year is simply a great rejuvenator.
So it's with some dismay that I read your column this week which suggests you took away a very different conclusion from our meeting. As in: the all-too-familiar and lazy slam at our company.
Before you embarrass yourself further in what you purport to be two additional columns which will no doubt explain to readers how editors such as myself have given up on the "alternative" ideal, I would hope you might check yourself and actually examine some facts.
It's pretty clear that you're talking about my company when you deride "'alternatives' becoming far less alternative" and that "specialize in 'gotcha' journalism, which is more concerned with with [sic] exhibiting embezzlers, corrupt elected officials, and pedophiles than with the regular workings of government." You also make the complaint that AAN's annual awards "honor the editorial content that is most like that of slick weekly and monthly magazines."
Well, OK, let's take a look at this year's AAN awards. The Village Voice did particularly well this year, taking five first place awards and a third.
Our film critic, Jim Hoberman, who has been reviewing movies here for 30 years, took first place for his film column.
But I guess I'll have to have a talk with Hoberman about betraying our alt-weekly roots with his slick weekly writing.
We also won a first place for the political columns of Tom Robbins, another longtime veteran here. Week in and week out, Tom gives New Yorkers the best peek behind the scenes of what's going on at City Hall, exposes the corruption in local union leadership, and in general cuts through the superficiality you find in the local dailies.
But I guess I'm going to have to have a talk with Tom about dialing things back and focusing on the "regular workings of government." Maybe he could have an exciting round table with some local activists or something.
We also won a first place for the music writing of Rob Harvilla, our music editor who happens to be newer -- he's been on the job about four years now -- and is, admittedly, a little younger than the folks who started alt-weeklies back in the day. But then, it kind of helps to have a younger dude covering emerging music. At least that's our theory. Rob won for his weekly columns, which tend to be some of the best music writing in the country.
But I guess I'm going to have to have a talk with him about maybe getting some more Dylan and Stones in there.
I know blogs scare the crap out of some alt-weekly oldtimers. It's like, you have to write something every day now, and some of these kids are posting things practically every hour.
I guess I'm going to have to have a talk with our blogging crew. In order to hang on to our alt-weekly roots, we're going to need to smoke a lot more weed, write a lot less, and get back to writing nothing but lazy political essays (what the hell was that opening bit in your column, Louis? Talk about old-school mush).
I guess you'll have to forgive me for letting you down, Louis. I told you I had a lot of respect for the Austin Chronicle and I meant it. But I thought you were one of the smart ones and understood that in the fierce fight for our lives some of us are in, writing the same old lefty political essays has been completely drowned out by the noise of the Internet.
Carrying water for local lefty activists? Hey, that went out when those activists got their own Twitter feeds and Tumblrs and, of course, blogs. They don't need us anymore, Louis.
We made a decision some time ago that the only way we'd continue to stay in this game was to focus not on the same old political essay writing but on original reporting, surprising our readers by not being predictable, and by doing our best to piss off everyone -- right, left, and center.
Does that make us less "alternative"? Well, as plenty have pointed out, in the age of the web it's nearly impossible to define "alternative" anymore. But I know what you mean when you say "alternative," Louis. It's the old hippie ideal of endlessly pushing a lefty agenda to keep up your "movement" cred. Hey, good luck with that. But I live in a cutthroat town, and I have salaries to pay. Your version of "alternative" wouldn't last a month here. Instead, we'll keep on digging up original stories about police corruption, union skullduggery, hot bankers, hippie crack dealers, rotten landlords and school segregation.
And along the way, I'll continue to celebrate the legacy of this newspaper which, if you actually took the time to look at some of its oldest archives, you would see was born with a passion for investigating and explaining this crazy town in a way the dailies couldn't touch. That, from the beginning, was what "alternative" was all about. And it's something we're just as passionate about now.
One other thing, Louis. Your paper, the Chronicle, took home one of the most prestigious awards at this year's contest for a classic piece of journalism: a story that questions the convictions of a couple accused of pedophilia.
Wasn't that one of the things you accused us of doing? Gotcha journalism about pedophiles?
I look forward to reading your next installment about what a hack I am.
Tony Ortega Editor The Village Voice
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