I’m about to make a generalization that is not entirely fair:
One among many challenges that forced two good alt-weeklies out of business this week was a lack of good art. I’m not saying it was the primary reason, only that it represented a denial of sorts of the visual nature of the media today. The lack of good photography in many alt-weeklies may be partly due to the lack of available landscape in the tabloid format, but it’s also due to a lack of respect for photos and photojournalists.
That is a vast overstatement and, again, I don’t mean that crummy photos doomed the Metro Pulse in Knoxville, Tenn., and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. These are challenging times for all media for myriad reasons that readers know all too well.
But I do think, precisely because of those challenges, we need to be visual in a time when the media is dominated by Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms that exist primarily as photo-sharing vehicles.
This isn’t my unique observation. In fact, I probably first considered the importance of photos in the alts in conversations with Charlie Russo. Charlie was a photographer for us at the Half Moon Bay Review and did at lot of freelance for the Bay Guardian on the side. He’s one of the best photographers you’ll ever meet. It was Charlie’s observation that alt-weekly editors seemed to value long-form, word-rich journalism above all else. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but if you want anyone to read it, you have to concern yourself with design, photography – even typography. …
Again, I don’t want to make too much of this, but I’ve had occasion to pick up the local alt-weekly and face waves of gray type without much break. It can be daunting for even a committed reader like myself. Alt-weeklies are perhaps uniquely positioned to do more with photography, but few have staff photographers to take advantage of the rich opportunities urban settings like San Francisco and Knoxville provide.
Contrast that with the kind of photographic play that regional dailies allow on their best days. Recently, the National Press Photographers Association highlighted the jaw-dropping work of St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographers in the days following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It will take your breath away. The dedication of those talented professionals is hard to put into words and one of the things that makes our work so noble.
I just don’t see that sort of thing in the alt-weeklies very often.
We live in a visual age and as the man said, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.