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Skip Berger on New Times, Seattle Weekly

Last night, I received an email from ex-Seattle Weekly editor Knute "Skip" Berger taking me to task for not contacting him for my article on the New Times-Village Voice Media culture clash. Berger's right. I should have called him--especially since I quote an "ex-Weekly staffer" citing alleged improvements at the Weekly since his departure.

That's only one of Berger's points, however. He also says my article fails to address New Times' corporate management style (I believe it does) and discusses the New Times M.O. in considerable detail. If you're at all interested in this subject, give it a look.

Adam:

So, you contacted Steve Perry (he wouldn't comment); you got a great quote from Will Swaim; and don't even bother to call or email me even though you allow conclusions to be drawn about my tenure at the Weekly? Thanks a lot. That's what Mike Lacey would call "lazy" journalism.

The suggestion (anonymous? why?) that the Weekly under Mark Fefer is a better "arts" paper is absurd, though I think Mark is an excellent arts editor and he's very much a friend. But under New Times not only have they virtually eliminated the arts section in favor of longer (but fewer) listings, they've eliminated the local film section and cut back on reviews. They also let a terrific arts editor, Lynn Jacobson, slip away, back to the Seattle Times, and didn't replace her.

Instead of a page or more of book reviews each week, the paper is down to (reliably) one column per week on literary topics. The Weekly has always had good, strong arts covers--and to the extent that Mark is continuing a local tradition not typical of New Times papers, my hat's off to him.

As to the quality of the website, Seattle Weekly won the AAN award last year for best website and my hunch is the paper won't be in the hunt again this year--the website has clearly suffered in the transition. But I understand New Times is adding staff in that department, so perhaps they'll turn it around.

I think your story misses an important point, which the arts section changes exemplify. My disputes with New Times were rarely over story content. Narrative journalism, advocacy journalism, investiagtive journalism: we've all done those things and love them when they're done well.

That said, the New Times version of the Village Voice chain has shifted from a company--under David Schneiderman-- that encouraged regional difference and individualism to one that is top-down and hands-on. New Times has a cookie cutter and they're not afraid to use it.  My problem wasn't story content, it was management style: who hires and fires? Who makes judgements about productivity? Who decides how the arts are covered? Somebody in Denver, or someone in the city who understands the market, the paper, the niche?

I realize that I had an exceptionally long leash at the Weekly under the old regime. I left when it became abundantly clear that the leash had turned into a choke chain. I was asked to fire people I would not fire, and had one employee hired without any consultation. Maybe it's just me, but that was untenable no matter what kind of journalism was in the paper.

The dirty secret--well, not so secret--of New Times is that they are as corporate as corporate gets. Their *style* of corporate may involve booze and macho-talk, but there's nothing really "alternative" about it.

I can't speak as to why Swaim or Perry left, though their manner of leaving had a ring of familiarity about it: New Times exec (usually Andy Van De Voorde) comes to town, meets with editor, editor quites, departure followed by exodus of key writers, editors and columnists. The suggestion that we somehow cut and ran--and left alt journalism in the lurch--is incredibly unfair. For one thing, it implies that we won't be doing journalism--alternative or otherwise--elsewhere.

For my own part, I am involved in the start-up of a new online daily called Crosscut.com, which will cover Seattle and the Northwest. The editor is Chuck Taylor, late of the Weekly. The publisher is David Brewster, founder of Seattle Weekly. I think we're fighting the good fight as we see it in our own ways. The alweeklies can fend for themselves.
 
---Knute "Skip" Berger

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