The Alternative Voice

Break out the champagne and confetti! We’re turning 32 this week. I write “we,” even though 32 years ago, I was in the wee-early stages of my professional development, as it were. In fact, on the day, I was likely staring out a South Florida grade-school window, pondering the mysteries of The Masters of the Universe.

That day was April 7, 1987, when the very first issue of Folio Weekly hit the streets of Jacksonville, giving the River City an alternative voice. Our distribution footprint has since expanded to encompass nearly all of Northeast Florida: Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

With 1,664 weekly print issues under our collective belt (that’s an estimate, by the way; I didn’t hand-count ’em), we’re still here. Print is dead? Those reports are greatly exaggerated. Make no mistake: Print is hurting. But it’s not dead.

Rather, many print publications have become victims of predatory acquisition. Consider the case of the seminal New York alternative weekly, The Village Voice, which ended its Pulitzer Prize-winning, 63-year run last year. The decision to go digital in 2017 and then to go altogether in 2018 was made by an absentee landlord, Pennsylvania billionaire Peter Barbey.

Such a fate is by no means unique to alternative or American media. I saw it happen in Brussels, Belgium. After nearly 50 years of independence, the flagship expat magazine for which I wrote was bought by an out-of-town media conglomerate. The first sign of danger: Our headquarters were moved out of the capital to a sterile corporate campus in the hinterland. Before long, the consultants arrived. It was all very Office Space. Heads rolled, and the magazine was yanked out of print. It limps on today as a digital prestige brand.

Speaking of relocation, The Florida Times-Union moved to its new digs in the Wells Fargo Center last week. Jacksonville’s daily newspaper is owned by a New York corporation, GateHouse Media, which boasts ownership of nearly 150 daily newspapers in 37 states. In his March 20 Folio Politics column, “No News Is Bad News,” A.G. Gancarski outlined some of the media giant’s infamous cost-cutting measures: acquisition, consolidation and syndication. It must look good from the boardroom, but on the ground, on the Earth, readers are given ever fewer local and original stories.

Now, bottom lines are not inherently nefarious. A complex world requires complex calculations. But those calculations should consider all stakeholders. From where I stand, part of the reason print media has fared so poorly in recent years is that absentee ownership favors short-term transactions (selling assets, cutting staff and milking brands for prestige and goodwill) versus long-term relationships—especially with readers. Unless those relationships are given value, they won’t survive the bottom-line calculus.

Folio Weekly remains locally and independently owned. Yes, we face many of the same headwinds as the corporate-owned print outlets—namely, competition from the world’s digital monopolies—but we have the freedom to steer our own course, not to mention the determination to see it through. In that sense, we’re more alternative now than we’ve ever been.

While other print properties have retreated, become more remote, we’ve doubled down on dialogue. Each print issue is an invitation to participate. Reach out and touch us. Our editors and contributors are your neighbors. We field phone calls and emails all day at HQ. Then we head into the community for weekly #FindYourFolio Happy Hours. And that’s as it should be. Our 32-year track record may get us on the racks, but we still have to prove our value to stakeholders—our readers—every week.