Sunday, November 17, 2002

Feds probe alt-weekly double suicide. The Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten reports that the US Department of Justice is investigating the alt-weekly collusion that led to the recent shutdown of New Times LA and the Cleveland Free Times. The details of this sleazy deal cry out for an antitrust probe. New Times Media, headquartered in Phoenix, agreed to shut down its LA paper -- and thus stop competing with Voice Media's LA Weekly -- if Village Voice Media, the parent company of the Village Voice, would shut down its Cleveland paper, which had been competing with New Times' Cleveland Scene. Millions of dollars changed hands as well. (I found this story through Glenn Reynolds's InstaPundit.)

Rutten writes that the nature of the investigation suggests that Justice officials may seek criminal charges, which carry with them the possibility of individual fines of $300,000 and company fines of $10 million.

There is considerable irony, he notes, in the spectacle of media companies that trace their roots to "the insurgent journalism of the 1960s counterculture, being treated like a 19th century cartel." (Although Rutten could use a history lesson. The Village Voice was founded by Norman Mailer and his friends in the 1950s, whereas the Phoenix New Times began publication in 1970.)

And recently, Village Voice media columnist Cynthia Cotts wrote a doleful piece on where it might all be headed: to an eventual sellout to a mainstream daily-newspaper chain. It's not like it hasn't happened before, either. In 1999, Times Mirror (now the Tribune Company) purchased the Advocate weeklies. Among its holdings: the Hartford Advocate, whose mission was to cast a skeptical eye at Times Mirror's daily Hartford Courant.

The mainstream media doesn't have to kill the alternative press if it is intent on committing suicide.

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