No alternative

Yesterday's news — broken by Crosscut's David Kroman — that this week's issue of the Seattle Weekly will be the final print edition of the alternative weekly has saddened a lot of Seattleites. And rightly so! It's always sad when journalists lose their jobs — even moreso when their good work has been relentlessly undermined by reshuffling and corporate cuts along the way.

Watching the slow death and decline of the alt-weekly in general has been painful. When I first started paying attention to alternative weeklies in the 1990s, they still felt like genuine countercultural documents. I got my start at alternative weeklies, and I've been published in quite a few alt-weeklies over the years. (Full disclosure: for a couple years, the Seattle Review of Books republished pieces in the print edition of the Seattle Weekly as part of a content sharing agreement; no money or ownership ever changed hands.)

But the last two decades have seen alt-weeklies age very poorly. The aging alt-weekly hipsters in management who saved themselves in the onslaught of layoffs and shutterings have soured into reactionary South Park-style conservatives, tossing out clickbait and feasting on outrage, to diminishing returns — look at the LA Weekly and the East Bay Express, among others.

In the onslaught of the internet and the devaluation of print advertisements, alt-weeklies have gone from the freshest source of urban cultural commentary to the stodgiest. It's hard to imagine today's teenagers aspiring to one day write in what's left of the alternative weekly media bubble, in just the same way that nobody in my generation really dreamed of writing for Playboy or any of those other washed-up countercultural dinosaur outlets.

But over the last few years, the Weekly didn't fall into the bitter-old-white-man trap that captured so many other alt weeklies, and they deserve our respect for that. Right up until the end of the print edition, they told compelling stories about Seattleites and tried to make sense of wonky regional politics. They were a publication that was devoted to documenting life in Seattle, the way it looked on the street.

In my 20 years in Seattle, I've seen the Weekly fall and rise: when I first moved here, it was becoming the establishment paper. But under the leadership of arts editor Kelton Sears about five years ago, the Weekly started embracing Seattle's weirdness again, and it became an earnest celebration of what makes this city unique: the comics, the outsider art, the tireless young creators. The Weekly continued keeping that DIY spirit alive in the print edition even after another round of budget cuts wiped out Sears's art section and reduced the print publication to a few sheets of thin newsprint.

The Seattle Weekly will reportedly still continue online, where the "Weekly" part of the name will essentially be meaningless. But starting next week, there will be no alternative weekly published and distributed on the streets of Seattle. And that's a moment worth marking — a complicated legacy that should be noted. Whatever form their journalism takes in the future, the stewards of new media should reflect on the lessons and tragedies and triumphs of the 20th century alternative weekly. They got a lot wrong in the end, but the good times were pretty great.