The shuttering followed the unionization of the staff last April and Lee Enterprises’ take over in spring 2017.
Along with firing the staff, Lee Enterprises also deleted the publication’s archives. The staff was also locked out of its emails and told to make an appointment to pick up personal items.
Lee Banville, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Montana, stated in the Montana Kaimin: “When Matt Gibson [the previous owner of the paper who became its GM] sold the Independent to Lee, there was almost immediately a pretty good chance this was going to happen. Other alt-weeklies that have been purchased by paper chains have been closed.”
The deletion of the archives, however, showed a lack of regard by the owners for the work done by the journalists over the years. It may be a personal attack or nod to the disregard many moneyed interests possess when buying revered publications.
The curious shuttering of the Independent came just days after Pete Barbey, who bought the Village Voice in 2015 and took it online only just last year, informed the alt-weekly of its demise over the phone.
He reported said: “Today is kind of a sucky day. Due to, basically, business realities, we’re going to stop publishing Village Voice new material.”
The Village Voice's staff had also unionized.
The Village Voice will retain about half of its editorial staff to digitally archive its issues. (ArtForum has a great roundup of notable writers’ memories of working for the alt-weekly, including Melissa Anderson, Gary Indiana and Vivian Gornick.)
The survival of alt-weeklies has shared a similar fate to local newspapers. New owners move in to seemingly save struggling titles, only to slash the staff to nothing or shutter the outlets completely.
Just last year, L.A. Weekly was bought up by Semanal Media, which was revealed to have conservative interests. The group promptly fired most of the staff upon takeover.
It's noteworthy, however, that a group of journalists is raising funds to launch a new L.A. alt-weekly called The LAnd Magazine. As of September 1, the group was nearly halfway to its funding goal. Their hashtag: boycottlaweekly.
With luck, more projects like The LAnd Magazine will be born to replace lost titles. Perhaps a new publishing model is needed.
The loss of alternative weeklies feels particularly personal. They act as mirrors for the complex lives lived in the cities where they publish. As more outlets are bought up, shut down or prevented from operating at full capacity, a much-needed connection is lost between that city's culture and its residents.
Media is in the communications business. In a fractured time in our history, every connection counts.