The alternative media in Houston isn't the Press

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A professional journalist with “big media” here in town asked in an email recently why we focused on the Chronicle so much but ignored the Press.

I thought that was a good question.

We do occasionally refer to the alt-weekly Press as more dinosaur than alternative media these days, but don’t say much else because while the publication isn’t objectionable, it’s also not that interesting.

That was pretty much my answer to my correspondent, along with some examples from the most recent issue.

In the past, publications like the Press and the old Public News were edgy. They’d dig up interesting stuff nobody else would print. Sometimes, in the case of departed columnist Tim Fleck, they’d dig up stuff nobody else would even dig up. They would beat local media to the punch with stories. Basically, they would push the local media. The publications were reliably left-of-center and often cynical, but that wasn’t really their selling point. That they were well-written, hard-hitting, and ahead-of-the-curve was.

Looking at the latest Press, though, I see very little of that.

Sarah Fenske’s article on Police Chief Hurtt’s Taser initiative was good work, to be sure, but isn’t really groundbreaking investigative journalism. Regular music columnist John Nova Lomax turns in too many insomnia-curing columns like this one these days. Richard Connelly’s column on the Astros was certainly cynical, but otherwise seemed to be a mean, not to mention mundane, effort by a good writer who seemed bored. His Hair Balls column remains an inadequate replacement for the old News Hostage column he used to do, and too much of the content is largely “olds” that’s already been discussed and put in the grave by local bloggers much earlier. Speaking of bloggers, the column by Catherine Matusow on Matt Mullenweg, local blogger and programmer of some great blogging software very similar to what powers this site, was a nice profile of a good guy. But Matusow squandered an opportunity to turn a run-of-the-mill profile that really missed the mark with its focus on “blogs as fun little social club” into a more interesting article about blogs as a new form of alternative media.

Of course, Robb Walsh is brilliant, almost without fail. He’s the main reason to pick up the thing each week — unless, of course, one is in need of an escort service.

As I concluded in my email correspondence, that’s really not the stuff of interesting media criticism (which is what we like to do here). The Press has become boring and predictable. And it was probably only a matter of time before “alternative” journalism as practiced by New Times would come to resemble the “radio” formula as practiced by Clear Channel/Infinity: targeted to a certain demographic, designed to sell ads, but otherwise not that adventurous, and certainly not outside the mold carefully crafted by the suits in corporate.

Fortunately, weblogs are increasingly assuming that “alternative” niche even as formerly alt publications like the Press become just another part of dinosaur media. Readers, not to mention folks in dinosaur media who are open-minded (like the handful who regularly correspond with us here), are the beneficiaries.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX