Alternative weeklies, once known as “underground papers,” came of age during the Vietnam War after mainstream media were slow to raise questions about that ugly conflict.

(Sound familiar? Maybe kind of like the snooze the mainstream press took during the first year of the war in Iraq?) Alt-weeklies stepped in to fill the void, providing a voice for people who don’t swallow government lies hook, line, and sinker. Mainstream papers won’t even tip a sacred cow; alt-weeklies disembowel them.

So it is with trepidation that Static acknowledges Village Voice’s 50th birthday this week. The New York alt-weekly’s parent company, Village Voice Media, announced it had consummated its previously hinted-at plans to merge with New Times, the other big chain in the alt-weekly world. Village Voice Media owns seven alternative papers, while New Times owns 11 – including the Dallas Observer. New Times used to own a dozen papers until the company disowned one – the one in your hands (or on your computer screen) right now. Yep, in 2002 Fort Worth Weekly was dumped as unceremoniously as a sack full of puppies on a county road, which in hindsight was a good thing since we don’t need no steenkin’ corporate masters breathing down our necks.

The merger between New Times and Village Voice Media would give Village Times, or New Voice, or whatever they call this newfangled private company, 25 percent of alt-weekly circulation in the country – serious advertising leverage (full disclosure: Fort Worth Weekly gets national ads from Ruxton Media, an offshoot of New Times). So, what does this spell for the alternative media? Probably few changes in the short term, but that begs the question of whether the alternative is moving ever closer toward the traditional. Watch and see if some of the freewheeling, rabid alt-weeklies begin pulling punches, which can happen when newspapers in large chains become more aware of corporate oversight and demands from mainstream advertisers. Any time business folks start talking about increased synergy, corporate partnerships, and focus groups, we shed inky tears. As for the Weekly, don’t worry – we still eschew the sacred moo.

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