When I was promoted to editor of the Current 10 months ago, a good friend gave me a piece of advice: Don’t spend time criticizing the San Antonio Express-News, he said, because … well, I don’t actually remember his rationale, but I generally follow the suggestion since, to borrow liberally from Sir Winston Churchill, the Express-News is the worst daily paper, except for all the others that I’ve tried. It is mostly irritating when you consider the good it could be doing with all of that staff and a giant printing press to boot (i.e. breaking the story of AT&T’s domestic-spying shenanigans instead of playing PR apologist).
Oops, there I go again. But in my defense, it is part of the alternative press’s job to point out the foibles of the mainstream megalith media because the way it covers, or chooses not to cover, newsworthy events directly affects the communities in which they make their profit margins.
Gratuitous example: When E-N owner Hearst bought out the 18 local Prime Time Newspapers last winter, E-N Public Editor Bob Richter wrote “There is no downside.” Here was the guy who’s supposed to be the your advocate using his column inches to rave about how great it was going to be for Hearst to have a near-monopoly on local print media.
Crucial example: The E-N endorsed ex-Congressman Henry Bonilla in the Fall ’06 election and run-off on the theory that although he was a pretty bad egg, he would be able to bring home the bacon, whereas a junior replacement would have to go begging.
This is a philosophy — whatever brings home the bacon — that Hearst and the E-N also apply to newspapering. Today marks the debut of 210SA, a free weekly paper aimed at 18-35 year-olds and covering music, arts, nightlife etc. “It’s hip, funny, and informational. It’s 210SA,” began the — ahem — news story in the E-N’s February 25 Business section. The prototype the Current saw last month was remarkably free of news and politics, or even things to read as opposed to browse — sort of like the Weekender meets the Star meets Match.com — but otherwise you can see where this is going: the free alternative weekly is almost the only print media Hearst doesn’t own in this town, so it’s not surprising it would launch what is affectionately known hereabouts as a faux-alt.
Over at E-N HQ, it’s known as a market strategy: “210SA is the latest in a series of niche product launches that, coupled with the recent acquisition of Prime Time Newspapers, reflect our overarching strategy ... ” wrote Editor Bob Rivard in a memo to E-N staff obtained by the Current. “We are committed to ... expanding our audience and reach in the market through more targeted products.”
I can’t wait to see the “targeted product” they launch to capture the San Antonio Observer’s “niche” — although I’m not sure they’re willing to be that edgy (see The Queque, page 9, for a recent Observer highlight: Police Chief McManus in blackface).
All of which is to say, maybe we ought to spend more time writing about San Antonio’s increasingly constricted local media universe. The Current cares, because we think someone should tell you when the rich and powerful are behaving badly, even before the tide of popular opinion has turned. Our idea of cutting edge, for instance, means pointing out that the government is clearly lying about WMD to start a war in Iraq while the hawks were still frothing at the mouth that anyone who didn’t support the Administration was a terrorist sympathizer.
Also edgy: Regular Current critic Steven G. Kellman, who earns well-deserved honors March 8 with the National Book Critics Circle 2006 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing — awarded in part for work published in the Current.
“The selections he submitted … indicate how many innocent-looking citizens with access to the publication racks and newspaper-dispensing machines of his town are walking around dangerously armed with the literary zingers, intellectual asides and plumb wisdom they get when they read his reviews,” observed the NBCC’s blog, and we expect those innocent-looking citizens don’t take him for granted, either. Perhaps the most appropriate reference for Kellman’s reviewing skills in the context of this column is his recent examination of All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone `“What would Izzy do?” November 29-December 5, 2006` in which he observes: “Except for some intrepid alternative publications and a few novae in the blogosphere, corporate infotainment has displaced responsible independent journalism.” You can find it online at Sacurrent.com.