With the economy thriving, alternative publications seem to pop up like weeds in a vegetable garden. Sporting the same stubborn attitude, they also vanish as quickly as they appear.
In a weak economy, advertising revenues a publications lifeblood shrivel as quickly as DDT delivering a deathblow to dandelions. Three of Clevelands most resilient journalistic ventures have enjoyed a long, strong economic run. But how long can the prosperity last?
Editors Frank Kuznik of Scene, Tom Vasich of the Free Times and Larry Durstin of the Cleveland Tab, stepped away from their gritty, sardonic ways in May to discuss the future of the alternative press for a few hours at the Play House Club. The trio exchanged barbs and took turns explaining why there is both room and a need for three alternative publications in Northeast Ohio.
If you go to any medium or decent-sized city in this country right now, you will see more than one alternative weekly, Kuznik said. And I dont think theres any reason this market cant support more than one. But I also think its been a long time since this town has seen some good journalistic competition. And were definitely up for that.
Durstin agreed, but added one cautionary thought. Were going to find out when the economy downturns. Weve been on pretty much of a roll for five or six years. One of the first things to go (when the economy slows) is advertising revenue. In some ways, we need to find alternative ways to improve our bottom line.
Two of the publications the Free Times and Scene were purchased by national chains and enjoy the benefits that national advertising brings. That type of financial boost allows the publications to expand beyond typical entertainment-type coverage and offer more hard-hitting stories.
According to the Free Times Vasich, the best journalism is provocative; it forces the reader to reexamine the issues.
I appreciate any writer who makes that effort to try and challenge the reader with ideas, a point of view or an opinion. I think its important about what we do. These papers are good because they are done by human beings who will give you a perspective, who will challenge you.
Durstin said the Cleveland Tab, which recently announced it would return to monthly publication, follows the tradition of the 60s underground press. (We are) a small group of people who kind of have a perspective and an agenda to carry out. Were more of a group of people that wants to represent a certain viewpoint, a certain niche.
But with the strength of national ownership behind two of the three publications, their futures are less in doubt, and Cleveland should enjoy watching the product of their rivalry for years to come.