By: Debra Gersh-Hernandez Larger alternative newspapers are said to reach about 30% of each of these coveted reader categories sp.
ALTERNATIVE NEWSPAPERS have something that many in the mainstream press want: readers who are baby boomers and members of Generation X. "Most of the bigger alternatives reach around 30% of the baby boomers in their market and a similar number of the so-called Generation X. These numbers have been relatively stable over the past few years and are climbing rather than falling," explained Ben Eason, editor and co-publisher of Creative Loafing in Tampa. Based in Atlanta, the Creative Loafing Newspapers have combined revenues of some $10 million and a weekly circulation of 250,000. Eason told the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, "The three basic themes running through alternative newspapers are: a shared heritage of the counterculture of the sixties, a custom tailoring of newspapers to fit the lifestyles of these baby boomers, and a shared sense of passion and commitment in the writing." Pointing out that the ASNE members' "newspapers were a part of these institutions that boomers rejected in the '60s," Eason said, "a trust was broken during this period between your newspapers and this generation and you have never really regained this trust . . . . "Alternative and underground newspapers expressed the language of 'do your thing,' and of the ideals of love, self-fulfillment, accommodation and freedom, while your newspapers spoke the language of order, structure and caution," he said. "You may find this to be a trivial point, but this generation looks carefully at the language to discern authenticity and commitment to the passion of the '60s." Since music "remained the dominant carrier of cultural messages and themes," Eason said, the alternative newspapers "provided the forum for these activities in their calendar sections and in their articles. This reference information was far more central to boomers' lives than your newspapers imagined. This was more than just entertainment and leisure information ? this was a search for meaning." Pointing out that boomers feel entitled to their own products, including publications and reference guides, Eason told editors he cannot understand their "attempts to mix lifestyle choices to four different generations in a one-size-fits-all fashion that has been traditional to daily newspapers." Alternative newspapers also are distinguished by their advocacy and "passion that is characteristic of the editorial content," he continued. "We publish newspapers in free form and haven't built boxes in our heads that prevent our movement. What I have come to realize through conversations with editors of daily newspapers is the tremendous self-imposed constraints that modern-day journalists have placed on themselves," Eason commented. "While I know that the journalists who hold the notion of objectivity close to their hearts are doing so in the interest of readers, the baby boomers see this as complicity with the establishment," he said, adding that while he is "not a big fan" of the approach that is "long on rhetoric and short on facts," alternative readers "seem drawn to any rhetoric that is different than the standard fare." The alternative press has picked up Generation X by default, although Generation X alternatives are beginning to proliferate, Eason explained. "Alternative newspapers will be segmented by these new publications claiming that boomer publications represent a bunch of old farts. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?" he observed. "If alternatives are being segmented, your desires of continuing to be everything to all people strikes me as quite a bit of wishful thinking." The mainstream press can reach these readers, but, Eason said, "You will not be able to beat the better alternatives unless you are prepared to eat, sleep and drink baby boomer politics and social trends. "Just as your newspapers have watched your leaders rise and hold political office, it is now our turn," he said. "It will be quite exciting in the next five to 10 years to see our leaders in office. "Your papers can cover the who's winning and who's losing stories," Eason added. "We would like to understand how these leaders will reconcile the idealism of the '60s with the problems of the '90s."