Edward McClelland, former staff writer at our sister paper, the Chicago Reader, pens an interesting piece in the latest Columbia Journalism Review. At the end of a very long list of how the Reader was once cool and cutting-edge and how it is not anymore and how it’s the fault of gentrification and 40-year-old readers who’ve abandoned the model, he asks:
The Reader’s in-depth pieces made it different from every other paper in the city. If there’s no longer a place for them, will there still be a place for the Reader?
That’s a question I’ve been struggling with—-that we’ve all be struggling with at CP—for some time and especially in the last few weeks. Last year, I went to a job fair at Columbia Journalism, not because we had any open jobs, but because we wanted to see who was out there and willing to come on for peanuts should something open up. The kids lined up to talk to me. A staff writer from the Philadelphia City Paper also had trouble coming up for air. For these grads—-still—-alt-weeklies were where it was at, primarily because they’d been to grad school (already that’s a problem from my perspective, mainly because I went there, too) and they didn’t want to have to slug it out at a podunk daily churning out cop briefs and obits. Yet, they were beaten down enough to know they’re nowhere near ready for a magazine job. Thus the alt-weekly is the middle ground: the narrative option for the newbie journo, the place to cut chops before going for it with the magazines. It has always been thus. Until, perhaps, now.
I lament it, but, like McClelland, I’ve come to some realizations as well. The kids coming out of Columbia? I wouldn’t hire any one of them based on their clips. If any of them could write a compelling long-form narrative—-or even a short one—-I saw no evidence. Two of them, though, have what I never got from Columbia: Web skills. They knew how to tell a story online with all the A/V that entails. I hope they were hired, but I realized then that it was not only the traditional alt-weekly model that’s dying off. The talent willing to work long hours on long stories for peanuts? It’s not exactly thriving, either. I hate to say it publicly, but the whole experience made me glad for Cherkis and the whole old-school-new-school he brings to our aging product. I probably won’t outlast the changing of the guard, at least metaphorically, but he most likely will.
Hate away in the comments.