Let's Hear It for the Alternative Press

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Let's Hear It for the Alternative Press

In an era when the mainstream press increasingly appears neutered when it comes to probing and investigating the news (and what ought to be news), be thankful that those alternative news weeklies are around.

On AlterNet.org, G. Pascal Zachary writes:
The announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes usually provoke yawns -- or even sneers -- from media critics. The biggest of the American journalism prizes, the Pulitzers annually ratify conventional wisdom with overwhelmingly safe selections ... And that's largely what happened earlier this week, when the Pulitzer board announced this year's winners.

The usual suspects -- the L.A Times, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal -- were named, with one exception. For only the fifth time in the history of the prizes, an alternative weekly was named a winner. The paper, Willamette Week (Portland, Ore.) won the investigative reporting category for an astonishing series of reports on a former governor's long cover-up of sexual misconduct with a teenage girl.

The Willamette Week's report on former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, written by Nigel Jaquiss, was explosive. Goldschmidt, until the story broke, was considered the most powerful man in the state. Even more astonishing than Goldschmidt's misbehaviors was the cover-up.

... As one person told the reporter, you could argue that he had an ethical responsibility to act against Goldschmidt but other people had an even greater responsibility to act and didn't, so why should he?

One of those other non-actors, as it turned out, was Oregon's largest daily newspaper, the Oregonian, which had a chance to reveal the cover-up but inexplicably did not. In November 2003, after Goldschmidt was appointed to the Oregon State Board for Higher Education, one of his former staffers met with the Oregonian's senior political writer and gave him the name of Goldschmidt's victim, a chronology of the cover-up and the names of others who could confirm the story.

... [This] is a reminder of the importance of alternative weekly newspapers -- and the continuing tendency for monopoly newspapers to ignore the values of good journalism in pursuit of profit or behind-the-scenes influence.

... Willamette Week's Pulitzer is a reminder that alternative weeklies still have a special role to play. Bloggers may express "alternative" viewpoints with pizzazz but virtually none of them have the resources and skills to do the kind of patient investigative reporting that was required in order to strip a former governor of his apparent immunity from both law and morality. That took the concerted effort, over many months, of a reporter at an alternative paper with a circulation of a mere 90,000 a week.

Internet or no, alternative newspapers remain special, and they are needed as much, maybe even more, than ever.
Winning a Pulitzer doesn't seem to have gone to Willamette Week's head -- the newspaper's home page makes no mention of it.

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