When alt-weeklies — free, weekly newspapers — hit the scene in the 1970s, they quickly became famous for taking on issues that mainstream outlets wouldn’t: sex and drugs and rock and roll. Even more importantly, they offer vital information on local issues, free of charge.
But that style of presenting the news is under attack. Print newspapers have started to fall the way of the CD player and MySpace. While that’s been tough on big daily newspapers, it’s killing the alt-weekly industry. 2017 has been especially hard: New York’s Village Voice ended its print edition in August; The Baltimore City Paper put out its last edition on Nov. 1; and LA Weekly cut almost its entire staff after its sale to new owners.
Thankfully, Austin’s own alt-weekly, The Austin Chronicle, isn’t under the same dire threats faced by other alt-weeklies. “We’re in a different position than other people. I don’t know how many papers are still owned by the people who started them,” said Chronicle politics editor Chase Hoffberger. “We had a round of layoffs in 2010 or 2011, and otherwise we’ve kept a lean staff. We aren’t doing layoffs. We understand that we’re a rarity in that regard.”
The Chronicle, like the other alt-weeklies, offers a fiercely independent take on local issues. In its pages, you can find information not presented in other outlets. Take “The Greg Abbott Death Watch,” a running update of the number of prisoners Texas has executed while Gov. Abbott has been in power, or the “Gay Place,” a rundown of weekly events and information tailored to the local LGBT community. The Chronicle’s coverage provides important context that other newspapers don’t and spotlights communities that don’t
normally get attention.
What good is a newspaper if you can’t understand what it’s telling you? The Chronicle speaks with a voice, which also allows them to write about issues and politicians in a more comfortable way. “We try to provide a more fulfilling and complete analysis of who these people are. In a manner that is more interpretable and natural,” Hoffberger said. Local issues like zoning and urban planning can be hard to parse, and the informal language the Chronicle uses makes them far easier to understand.
Alt-weeklies’ rebuke of the establishment press should be reassuring to people who disliked mainstream newspapers’ handling of the 2016 election. Their relationship isn’t completely confrontational — Hoffberger was quick to correct me when I suggested it was. They just make sure to hold their daily counterparts accountable. Take the Chronicle’s relationship with Austin’s daily newspaper, The Austin American-Statesman. The Chronicle is quick to point out perceived mistakes in The Statesman’s coverage, calling them out for cutting their arts critic and lambasting them when they stopped
endorsving candidates for public office (which left the Chronicle as the only city-wide paper making candidate endorsements).
The best quality the Chronicle provides is accessibility. You can pick it up, free of charge, at more than half a dozen places on and around campus, and they estimate that more than 5,000 people in the campus area read the Chronicle every week. The best way to support free papers is by reading them so they can up the readership counts they pitch to advertisers. So pick up a copy of The Chronicle, which you can probably find in your favorite coffee shop or restaurant, and get reading.
Price is a government sophomore from Austin.