Media After the Motor City 

Recently, I spent time rubbing elbows and throwing back cocktails with fellow alties from across the country at the annual Association of Alternative Newsmedia convention. We spent a couple of days in Detroit taking notes on increasing Web revenue, recording the rather bleak economic assessment offered in a business-writing workshop, and finding inspiration in unexpected places--like the brief speech given by 95-year-old Motor City resident and activist Grace Lee Boggs.

Unlike conventions past, this one felt almost free of the frantic desperation many couldn't seem to shake as their papers struggled in a rapidly changing media landscape at the mercy of a stumbling economy. It's tough to tell if the swing is trending up or if those still struggling just stayed home. Likely it's a bit of both, but by my guess, the papers doing the best are the ones who have taken the change in stride, redefining who they are and what their role should be in delivering the news--be it hard, fluffy, longform or digital.

When I was reporting on business issues as a staff writer at BW, one source at the Idaho Small Business Development Center had a sort of standing explanation about why some businesses fail and why some succeed, about why some suddenly shutter after many successful years and others manage to eke by: He said success in business relies on meeting your customers' needs; those needs may change over time and successful businesses continually evolve to meet those needs.

And while many alt weeklies become more dynamic, their daily counterparts continue to erode. While New Orleans' Times-Picayune falters, The U-T San Diego daily paper openly eschews objectivity in a profit-driven editorial model that, as its chief executive told The New York Times, is "pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military." It's a reminder that these are still strange times in the newspaper business, even though some of us smaller local guys seemed to have found a shelter.

Also at that conference, Boise Weekly was sent home with two awards. In the Innovation/Format Buster category for papers with a circulation under 50,000, BW won first place for "Red Potatoes," by myself, Deanna Darr and Adam Rosenlund. Additionally, Rosenlund, former BW graphic designer, took third place in Illustration for papers with a circulation of under 50,000 for "Who are They Now?"

And if you manage to dig up the photo of me accepting the first-place award, yes, that is underwear on my head. What? We're alt journalists.

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