Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My old house turned into a condo

I feel like I should have some thoughts, or at least a bilious rant, about the sale of my spiritual home, the Village Voice, to the Olive Garden of print media. You've probably already read Jeff Chang's righteous words on the subject (though dudeman, Kenny Loggins is the wrong metaphor), so I won't go into details. I'll just quickly state three concerns.

One is for the future of political dissent in journalism, which seems to be retreating further and further into the realm of satire, and while I think Jon Stewart is a stone-cold fox I worry that feeding ourselves a steady diet of humor-as-news eventually makes all action seem ridiculous. Activism, in my experience, is not ironic, though it can be hilarious.

Two, Chang mentions the deleterious effect this is going to have on freelancer rates; obviously that's so, and a concern for me and mine. Some may argue that the creep of professionalism is what led to this impasse; that the idea of "getting paid" for fulfilling whatever def of alternative suits you is inherently corrupt and will end in 100-word reviews for EW. (That is not meant as a slam at David Browne, whom I admire, or any of the other good writers there.) Chang himself criticizes my (and his) generation for being too well-scrubbed, not committed enough to the edge. I see his point, but what I really think we're losing here is the middle ground between passionate amateurism and slick professionalism -- where, to my mind, innovation and great writing very often happens. What the Voice gave me and many of my peers was a place to try out our wacky, earnest, fuck-you ideas while also learning how to communicate with a mass audience, play by certain journalistic and critical rules, and refine our chops. Free space still exists (it's right here! and here! and here!), and opportunities to become professional certainly exist. But that golden middle is not only harder and harder to find, it's harder and harder to live past supper there.

Third -- related. The rise of multi-level professionalism (i.e. tens of thousands of books published each year, nearly all of them mediocre) leaves the real characters endangered. I loved working at the Voice because it was full of glorious, committed, career freaks. (That label is not meant to demean their talents, competence, or wisdom, simply to extoll their refusal to always play well with others.) Increased corporatization leaves no room for these true souls. And if you don't believe me, read this.


Blogger Charles said...

As I noted on my own blog, I experienced the narrowing of possibility in alternative weeklies while writing on the side for Phoenix New Times. The people who actually handled content were great, despite their bad rep. And they were pretty progressives, all in all. It was the corporate model that was the problem. I do think that the blogosphere, which you are now happily a part of, is becoming the place where non-careerist alternative publishing finds its most suitable domicile. But we still need to get paid.

Incidentally, I was going through my files the other day and came upon my collection of your old, pre-New Times takeover columns from the SF Weekly. I got very nostalgic.

8:32 AM


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