Defining alternative media in Hampton Roads

NORFOLK, Va. – HearSay with Cathy Lewis earlier this month had a panel on alternative media in Hampton Roads region, which effectively was a discussion about the monthly print pub Veer Magazine and the online outlet AltDaily.

Though it aired Aug. 10, I finally had a chance to hear the whole thing this past week, and mention it here in large part because I’ve written about alternative media here and elsewhere, and I have a loosely scheduled interview for this blog that surely will touch upon the topic.

Lewis’ guests were:

  • AltDaily publisher Hannah Serrano and editor-in-chief Jesse Scaccia. AltDaily is an online outlet, though Serrano said they’ll role out a print product of some kind later this year. Looking forward to it. AltDaily‘s strongest content, including its sharp take on news reported elsewhere, could do well on the page.
  • Veer Magazine publisher and editor Jeff Maisey. Veer is a monthly publication similar in some respects to the defunct PortFolio Weekly, which Maisey once edited. Veer‘s website, which is fairly straight forward, is due for a facelift soon, he noted.

Overall, a good talk. I had one minor issue, and I’ll come back to it, but I want to stress:

  1. I love HearSay and public radio, and am glad Lewis covered this on her show.
  2. I consume both AltDaily and Veer Magazine, in addition to The Virginian-Pilot and a variety of other local media, such as Vivian Paige’s All Politics Is Local blog.
  3. The conversation absolutely is worth a listen at this link.

Lewis opened with a definition:

Broadly speaking, we might think about alternative media as those publications or shows or websites or institutions that share news that often because of commercial media business models aren’t necessarily part of the mainstream media.

So you will find stories in the alternative press that you may not find in your standard media outlets. And if you’ve been a media consumer in Hampton Roads for a long time you will probably recall (the now defunct) PortFolio Weekly.

Over the course of the show, she asked each guest to offer their definition.

Maisey said:

One of the positives of having alternative media is when the major media companies choose to pull back, whether it’s difficult economic times like we have now or whatever, alternative media, whether it’s AltDaily online or Veer in print and online, we’re able to fill that void to make sure that many important things in the community get covered that might not get covered at all.

Later he added:

I think being in alternative media, it’s also giving a second opinion. … It’s also about not being censored.

Serrano’s answer was cut short, unfortunately, but she tried to discuss independence – an often suggested flaw of The Pilot-owned PortFolio – while also apparently trying to note that some corporate owned pubs can do well:

Well alternative media, it’s interesting to describe because I think it’s mostly based on content but definitely ownership is a major part of it. Independent ownership of media is a clear definer, but I do want to make a specific point of the difference between PortFolio Weekly and a sister publication Style Weekly in Richmond which is also owned by Targeted Publications and (Virginian-Pilot Media Companies).

This comment was cut short, but Style is an effective alternative publication whereas PortFolio (for which I wrote from time time) was in some ways less successful, though they share/shared the same ownership. I think it probably has a lot to do with the fact that, with PortFolioThe Pilot effectively owned both the dominant paper and the “alternative” weekly in the same Hampton Roads market. Whereas The Pilot/Landmark owns Style in Richmond but the dominant outlet is The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The T-D is owned not by The V-P’s parent company but by Media General. Competition is good for outlets and consumers alike.

Lewis put the “what is alternative” question to Scaccia, prompting this exchange:

Scaccia: I think the word alternative in and of itself is kind of establishment-centric. So that’s not a word I would necessarily —

Lewis: What would you call it? Alternative as in alternative to the establishment with air quotes around that word.

Scaccia: Yeah and all the values that comes with sort of an establishment mindset. So I think we’re just something different, working in the same city as The Pilot and any other establishment mainstream media. … I think the benefit that we have is we kind of decided early on to object to the idea of objectivity. You never stop being a person. It’s not like you become a reporter and God lifts you up onto the mountain and you can see everything clearly now. So all of our writing is first person. … We have viewpoints and our writers certainly have viewpoints.

I think Scaccia did a good job summing up what makes some of AltDaily‘s content a worthwhile read to me, and also why the site is a different beast than Veer.

My very minor beef: I wish there had been more discussion of original public interest reporting, which is an area that makes good alternative media outlets even better.

HearSay airs from noon to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, on WHRV 89.5 FM. You can find out more about the program and its host at this link.

A link to AltDaily is here.

A link to Veer is here.

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20 thoughts on “Defining alternative media in Hampton Roads

  1. brian Kirwin says:

    So, small left-wing media is the alternative to big left-wing media? That’s what these folks consider alternative?

  2. Hi Brian. Thanks for the comment and a great question.

    As this edition of HearSay framed the issue, two outlets represented “alternative” media, presumably because they have directly resulted from the shuttering of PortFolio and seem to both be doing well. AltDaily and Veer are alternatives to The Pilot. Not the only ones, but alternatives.

    I’m not comfortable characterizing these outlets politically. I’m comfortable saying that, for me, content that is obviously political or clear advocacy neither diminishes nor bolsters content by the same outlets that is either apolitical or unrelated to/peripherally involves politics. I assume both outlets are pretty open to representing a wide variety of views. Might be a good question to them.

    However, calling The Pilot “big left-wing” media is misleading. It conflates perceptions of the editorial page with the newsroom. As you may recall, I certainly was never prevented from reporting stories critical of any party. I covered my beat. Sometimes the GOP was mad at the result of my reporting. Sometimes it was the Dems.

    If you have a wider discussion about what is “alternative” media, Bearing Drift or All Politics Is Local might want/not want/deserve that title, such as it is. As you hopefully know, since I am a Bearing Drift subscriber – old school, I suppose, as I take the magazine – I consume a broad platform of opinions to supplement the peerless factual newsgathering of my local newspaper. I also try to read critically, whatever the source.

    A perhaps more important issue I raise (after the summary of Lewis’ show) is the issue of producing original public interest or watchdog journalism. The Pilot does it. The so-called alts generally do not do this, in part, because it costs money to do well. The Pilot‘s newsgathering capability matters to our region. I don’t see any outlet capable of replacing it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

  3. brian Kirwin says:

    John-Henry, I never had a problem with your reporting. You’re not there anymore. There are a few writers there who are interested in nothing more than blasting Republicans with attacks and never focusing on a real issue. Editorially, their Board interviews with candidates are about as bipartisan as the Supreme Soviet. Politically, PortFolio was far left, Alt-Daily is too, and Veer has good ol’ TR ranting against the right, in between articles praising Obama and the environment.

    When I hear “alternative,” I don’t hear “further in the same direction.” Something conservative would actually be “alternative.” But we don’t get invited to the program.

  4. John-Henry – I think your beef is not minor but major. I like this definition of alternative: “The choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities.” Can you read any of the “alternative” media without referring to the MSM? Generally speaking, no. So I’m not sure that any of this – including the blogs – is alternative.

    Parasitic, maybe.

    As for you, Brian – you have the Daily Press, which makes no effort, like the RTD, to hide its bias. And one need only look to the Pilot’s endorsement of Rigell to see the fallacy of your argument.

  5. @ Brian: First off, you’re always welcome here, and I hope we’ll have a talk or email exchange soon. Absolutely, a publication/Web outlet that is conservative could be considered alternative. The sticky part of what you’re getting at, for me, is when an editorial page position impacts original reporting by any newsroom personnel. I think it’s unfair to put that on the paper as a newsgathering organization.

    The reporters I know at The Pilot are not partisans. They’re professionals who care about Hampton Roads and ethical journalism. If you have no problem with my work, you should realize that I learned my former profession, which I still care about deeply as a consumer, from committed, amazing journalists at The Pilot, some of them still at work for our community’s newspaper today. I also learned from the people of my class, if you will, a generation of reporters who continue to do great work in challenging circumstances for both the industry’s bottom line and the perception, fueled by misleading accusations, that reporters are doing the public a disservice by asking questions of powerful people.

    The editorial board, which you mention, simply is not the newsroom. I care about the latter. The former is a different beast.

    @ Vivian: All of the blogs, as well as AltDaily and Veer, do some degree of original reporting. Jeff did an “exit interview” with Tim Kaine. They do interviews, cover events, write reviews and first person opinion, conduct research, and (I hope) fact check. Each of the people Cathy interviewed has a journalism background. Their outlets produce original content, some of it very strong, or build upon existing content with new perspective or thought, though this is different from the sort of public interest journalism I mean. I’m talking about watchdog public interest newsgathering capability. Either developing a new capability or protecting what we have in The Pilot.

    News aggregators, as I have written here and at TReehouse at greater length, are parasitic because they simply repackage existing content and profit without bearing the cost of production. Bearing Drift, All Politics Is Local, etc., are not aggregators. They are not parasitic. They produce content. They comment on MSM stories. They generally offer links or, at least, citations to their referents.

    One example is the If You Read The Paper feature at AltDaily. Now, I really like this feature. Not every edition is a gem, but it’s a damned good idea. It doesn’t merely collect stories from The Pilot and other outlets, which is aggregating, but gives them a certain new perspective or context. I’ve featured John McManus here before, and he’s just routinely funny and/or brilliant, and sometimes very moving, pretty much every Friday. He’s challenged some information, poked holes, etc., and provided his own perspectives and context. But I‘ve blathered on about his awesomeness enough here and elsewhere.

    Other examples: B.C. Wilson had a good Tuesday post about The Tide, biking, and original observations on crossings. Also, IYRTP contributor Jay Ford, instead of typing up and OpEd from home, recently attended a meeting on a contentious topic and described it, giving his obvious opinions a bit more weight. All good content I didn’t see elsewhere.

    Thanks for commenting, Vivian and Brian. I appreciate you taking the time. Stay dry.

  6. Well guys. Sucking blood (thanks Viv!) and dealing with this storm has left me pretty tired, but I’ll give this a shot.

    @Brian: Write for us. You are invited. Right now. Or send other conservatives that can write our way: jesse@altdaily.com. Please. Believe me, it’s not easy to find conservative writers willing to write for AltDaily. Enough criticism: be a part of the solution. Plus, this would help improve your “outstanding relationships with media.”
    We do offer you Max Shapiro every week. He’s no lefty:
    http://www.altdaily.com/blogs/news-blogs/politics-blogs/op-ed-new-york-city-residents-being-treated-like-insurgents.html

    1. We’ll never be able to do the old school kind of public interest reporting we’d like to. Little guys like us will never have the budget again. Those days were great, those days are by and large gone. It makes me just as sad as anyone else. Viva el Pilot.

    2. What we can do is cut through the middle man (journalists are often the middle men of change) and actually go to the source, shake things up, and help *directly* make things better. This is something that we do pretty well. Just a few examples:

    Problem: Hampton Roads isn’t gay friendly enough.
    Solution: Lobby to get Out in the Park to Town Point Park.
    http://www.wvec.com/home/Group-raising-money-to-move-gay-pride-event-to-Norfolk-116413484.html

    Problem: Norfolk City Council wasn’t airing their informal council sessions.
    Solution: We aired their session ourselves, and they voted to air them on their own the next week.
    http://hamptonroads.com/2011/03/filmed-meetings-shed-light-eating-habits-norfolk-news

    Problem: Street performance was considered illegal/not supported in Norfolk.
    Solution: We directly lobbied to get this ordinance changed.
    http://hamptonroads.com/2011/02/norfolk-ordinance-could-have-em-dancing-streets

    Problem: Brain drain, and the need for more small independent businesses in HR.
    Solution: Our Generation Norfolk program.
    http://www.insidebiz.com/news/turning-brain-drain-brain-gain

    For more of the doing: http://www.altdaily.com/features/news/what-altdaily-does.html

    3. In closing, let’s focus on what alternative media can still do well–celebrate community and allow for voices that would normally never see the light of day in the mainstream. AltDaily has been viewpoints out there that the Pilot and the TV news never ever ever would. That’s important. That matters. That is helping make alternative lifestyles (including homeschooling, tattoo culture, etc.) mainstream. That is making this place feel more like home for a whole lot of people.

    Let’s focus on what alternative media can become: A genuine community builder and economy grower. The government is not doing such a great job at those things these days (whoops, did a conservative viewpoint slip in here, damn, must be storm fatigue!). Somebody needs to step up. We are, and will be, a part of the solution.

    Sometimes the problem isn’t the problem, it’s the way we’re looking at something.

  7. Not to pick on you, Brian, but please look at that list of examples I gave you. One is a push for open government. One is a push for freedom of speech. One is a push to stop relying on big government, and doing the economy building ourselves. If you look at these principles with an open mind you’d think AltDaily just might be a friend to the Tea Party etc.

  8. @ Jesse: Thanks for commenting and for your perspective.

    @ Vivian: Earlier I ignored a question you raised, which is a good one:

    Can you read any of the “alternative” media without referring to the MSM?

    I can, in both examples HearSay featured. And they would probably continue to do well if The Pilot didn’t exist. At least from an advertising standpoint, it might help them.

    Either another business/media outlet/nonprofit newsgathering organization would step up, or these and other smaller outlets would.

    And it wouldn’t need to be in print.

  9. Brian Kirwin says:

    Jesse, Max is WORKING for a Democratic candidate right now, and you know it well. You just chose NOT to write it in a comment here because it would injure the point you were trying to make.

    That, Jesse, is the problem.

    A real journalist wouldn’t hide facts.

  10. Brian Kirwin says:

    John, some reporters aren’t partisan. Some are. I can specifically name two at the Pilot right now who do an absolutely horrendous job, made worse because they think they do a great job, but how they decide what to cover and what not to cover reveals a deep bias. It’s laughably obvious.

    You can’t just read what they write. You have to talk to them about what they don’t write.

  11. I thought Portfolio writers did some Pulitzer- quality work, such as the article on the pork industry. And Vivian’s column certainly indicates to me that she of Governor or Congressional caliber. Jeff deserves credit for building a publication so quickly of such weight. Jesse and Hannah are major enervators for the area. Doucette is an inciteful writer,

  12. Perhaps I should have said “insightful”..

  13. Scott C says:

    For someone who is upset by “hiding facts, ” Mr. Kirwin ought to be more willing to provide the factual basis for his inuendo.

  14. Brian,

    That’s as base, thoughtless, insulting and regressive of a comment you could have left. Depressing stuff, bud. Little kid stuff (or adult politician par for the course.)

    BTW, no grand cover up here. Anybody who’s around local politics knows that Max works for Northam right now, but has a long resume of experience with conservative politicians, and his philosophies are, without a doubt, conservative.

    But hey, you saw a chance to take a dirty shot at my credibility, and you took it. Much easier than attempting a positive dialogue that leads to greater misunderstanding.

  15. I meant understanding, obviously. Bleh.

    To comment on my not wanting to ‘injure my point,’ it already has a sprained ankle, so I was going easy on it. Jokes aside, AltDaily can and should be better about showcasing a more conservative viewpoint. Max is a step in the right direction; he doesn’t mean the problem has been solved.

    Again… wanna write for us? Know anybody who might be interested?

  16. Brian Kirwin says:

    Oh, gee…write for someone who insults me.

    Let me think a moment….

  17. Brian,

    You write because you believe you have an important message to share or story to tell. You write because you care about democracy, and you know it doesn’t function without a well-educated populace. You write because you’re an educator. You write for a publication because you want to reach its readers, or help it serve its mission.

    In nearly every election, at all levels, personality is allowed to trump education, leadership efficacy, or–God forbid–policy based on facts and research. American politics are no better than a new car show; it’s a cult of personality that embraces image over substance. Time and time again American elections consciously put the person before the policy. It’s a dirty, vapid game. It is a dishonor to our Republic.

    Not wanting to write for AltDaily because of an online tiff with me is just as counter-logic, just as much taking the easy way out in the name of confirming your bias.

    So again, even though I now question your level of jerkiness, I invite you again: write for AltDaily. The higher value to me is giving our readers a more balanced viewpoint, one that you would help provide. This, I believe, is a value that we both share.

    Is it about the politics or the values? Ball’s in your court, Brian.

  18. I was at work when most of this discussion went down yesterday. It looks like the thread is dead now. But on the off chance it continues, I just want to remind folks that there are two comment rules at this blog: (a) civility toward others and (b) keep the language clean.

  19. Brian Kirwin says:

    Jesse, those aren’t the reasons why I write.

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