'Philadelphia City Paper' Prints Its Final Edition
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have news this morning of a newspaper closing. It wasn't a big paper, but that very fact is what makes this a big story. The Philadelphia City Paper closed, bought up by a competing paper, its staff laid off. It is the latest death among this country's alternative newsweeklies, which, in a very old-fashioned way, have informed residents of local events. The City Paper's former writers include Daniel Denvir.
DANIEL DENVIR: Reporters in their 20s were given free rein to sort of speak truth to power with expletives.
INSKEEP: Meaning the City Paper investigated local government and wrote about local bands, like a group once called the Square Roots.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To the left is the most talented band in all the land, trying to lend a hand, the Roots from Philadelphia, ladies and gentlemen.
INSKEEP: As the Roots, they're now "The Tonight Show" house band. The City Paper also ran classified ads for everything.
DENVIR: My office was one thin wall away from where sex workers would come in, in person, to pay for their back-of-the-book advertisements.
INSKEEP: OK, many cities have a paper like this or even two. Though printed on old-school paper, they were created to attract a younger audience, like talent show producer Reese Amorosi. She was among those who read a regular arts columnist in the Philadelphia City Paper, always hoping to see her own name.
REESE AMOROSI: If you were an artist or any type of actor or singer or anything like that, the goal for a lot of us was to be in his column. And it meant you were one of the cool kids.
INSKEEP: She ended up meeting the columnist and marrying him. Alternative weeklies have also launched the careers of young writers. Susan Orlean, whose books include "The Orchid Thief," once wrote for the Boston Phoenix.
SUSAN ORLEAN: I really feel that I learned to be a writer working at alternative newsweeklies. We had the time and the space and the passion to work in a way that a more conventional newspaper wouldn't have permitted us to have.
INSKEEP: And their work mattered. Alternative weeklies picked up some of the basic work of journalism as big newspapers lost their staffs. Philadelphia's two dailies have been hammered by cutbacks and management chaos. And it was in this atmosphere that Daniel Denvir got a job four years ago at the City Paper. He took an interest in the police.
DENVIR: I did a bunch of investigations into police abuse and corruption and prison guard abuse, led to the prosecution of a police officer for perjury.
INSKEEP: Which Denver could do, even though the City Paper was in decline. The newsroom was mostly empty. He got his own office since there was nobody else to fill it. The ads for sex workers and everything else were moving online, and so were the readers.
DENVIR: Jack Shafer, a former Washington City Paper editor, I think put one of the problems well, which is that the smartphone really beats a newspaper as a boredom-killing device. But it - the smartphone does not, in any way, beat the alt weekly as a source of local news, unfortunately.
INSKEEP: And that underlines an irony.
DENVIR: At this moment, we can find out more about the conflict in Syria, more perspectives on the Greek debt crisis and various national and international issues than ever before on my smartphone. That's fantastic. But on the local level, news gathering is just being eviscerated.
INSKEEP: The Association of Alternative Newsmedia counts 113 weeklies as members. In recent years, many have seen circulation drop or have closed as the Philadelphia City Paper did this week. The front page of the final edition shows a typewriter and the headline, "Goodbye, Philadelphia." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.