Getting a taste for what’s going on in a city has become fairly simple for city dwellers in recent years. They plug in and surf the internet to visit sites talking about all the good things going on in town. I have been trained to do something slightly different. Even if it’s only a day trip to a mid sized city, I will eventually find a copy of their alternative weekly, or try to get a handle on as many of them as possible.
The alternatives provide a glimpse into what the “progressives” in town are concerned about, or at least what seems to be holding their interest at that moment. I figured that if I was going to continue to do this series, it would help to take a look at the alternatives in the cities in addition to relying on personal experiences. In many ways this sets the stage for the rest of the series. I’d suggest visiting all three sites and seeing the types of issues that are talked about. I’ll leave critical comments of the papers to their readerships and other who feel the need to comment.
The Chicago Reader
Chicagoans are served by one of the largest circulated weeklies in the country, The Chicago Reader. We’ve already mentioned them this weekend with regards to the upcoming show at Bottletree this coming weekend. This page provides links to comprehensive information about the publication’s history and circulation, with this map being the only one available from the three papers being looked at that graphically represents the distribution area of the paper. Their website appears to be updated daily with access to most of the paper online. I have found it easier to find the paper outside of the city’s downtown core than within during my visits. Established in 1971, The Reader contains features compared to news stories, taking deeper looks at urban issues, art, politics and culture. These tend to be the areas of interest for most weeklies. The depth of coverage, partially due to the size of its circulation area, causes an extremely large paper, sometimes encompassing two or three sections.
Birmingham is served by two alternatives. The Birmingham Weekly has been serving the Magic City in its current form since the late 90s. It is a weekly, publishing every Thursday. It currently claims a cumulative readership of more than 120,000 people. Its format and focus on area events has been perceived by many to have increased in the past year with the dissolving of Birmingham’s second daily newspaper, the Birmingham Post-Herald. The Weekly’s website states that the paper distributes to more than 600 locations in the area. To put that in perspective, the Reader site states that it is distributed in more than 1400 locations throughout Chicagoland. Click here to view the information page for the Weekly.
Black & White
While the Weekly is the relative new kid on the block, Black and White has been serving the Magic City since 1992. It is known for being the largest non-daily publication in the city. It is also recognized for its featuring of artist’s works on its cover. B&W claims more than 90,000 readers every two weeks when it publishes. B&W focuses on general features, though special inserts provide a focus on area issues and concerns. Their Cash Flow column is also a favorite of those that look to hold the Birmingham city government accountable for their tax dollars working. Click here to view B&W’s information page.
All of the papers work towards holding their local governments accountable to their readership. The Birmingham papers benefit from not competing directly with the daily in the market, The Birmingham News. The News puts out a tabloid style arts and entertainment piece, but the other two papers still enjoy a following. Conversely The Reader currently competes with two weekday tabloids, one for each daily in town (The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times).
While I could write all day about these papers in terms of pros and cons, I’d rather you visit their sites and comment about them yourselves. It will definitely get you ready for the rest of these.
Enjoy the day,