On newstands now is what we wrote about last month: A Nation piece by UC Irvine professor Jon Wiener criticizing the Weekly's new ownership and the tumultuous turnover here earlier this year. Rumor has it the Nation will print a response by Weekly jefe Ted Kissell, which means our own must be out of the running. But Village Voice Media acolytes aren't the only critics of Wiener's piece. We turn the floor over to Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (the trade organization for most alt-weeklies in the United States). In a web-only letter (which appears after the jump, along with some juicy Weekly gossip!), Karpel fried himself a Wiener (sorry for the bad pun, but we had to use it):
Jon Wiener's Village Voice Media hit piece included several glaring inaccuracies.
• In order to buttress his criticism of the present, Wiener evokes a mythical past "when the alt-weeklies sent writers around the world." Alternative newspapers collectively produce more revenue now than ever before, yet the average alt-weekly still generates less than $4 million in annual sales, which is hardly enough to be sending reporters on foreign assignment. Yes, the Village Voice used to do it, but the Village Voice—which in its heyday was an order of magnitude larger than our other member papers—isn't synonymous with "the alt-weeklies."
• Working feverishly to burnish the pre-merger reputation of OC Weekly, Wiener claims the paper "was one of the smallest alt-weeklies in the country, famous for its Spartan ingenuity." OC Weekly may have started small, but by the time Will Swaim and his staff were finished working their magic (Wiener got that right), it was far larger in both revenue and circulation than 80 percent of the papers that are members of our organization.
[Editor's Note: Karpel also noted a mistake in the original article regarding the merger sale price. That mistake has been corrected.]
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Standing alone, I would consider these inaccuracies to be minor, and chalk them up to hyperbole incident to Wiener's obvious polemical aims. Taken together, however, they demonstrate the author’s complete disinterest in the kind of real-world economics that all publishers must deal with. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on Wiener, though. Those of us who are responsible for meeting payrolls and providing employees with health insurance and other employment benefits are used to this kind of reporting. We see it every day, even in our own papers.
A final comment: I'll let Michael Lacey and Village Voice Media defend themselves, but it's worth noting that in an 3,000-word article in which he repeatedly claims that the company is moving the LA Weekly to the right, Wiener fails to cite even a single example of the paper having published a right-leaning article, or a writer having uttered a conservative sentiment within its pages.
* Richard Karpel * Association of Alternative Newsweeklies * Washington, D.C.