I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Proliferation of new media voices suit Albuquerque
Traveling in the Mountain West this summer, reading local papers, exploring watersheds, and trying to get a handle on the urban life in a recession-plagued and drought-stricken landscape, I came to realize all over again how endlessly interesting Albuquerque turns out to be. And how grateful I am to live here.
Albuquerque is one of the five big cities in the mountain southwest. After Los Angeles, it’s the first major city you reach on I-40 driving east. Albuquerque joins Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas as the major metro areas in what early explorers used to called The Land of Clear Light.
And Albuquerque is not just a big city. It’s a blue collar, hard working place, sure. It’s also a crossroads place, a place of genius and center of pluralism. And it’s a culture capital. Its university and community college, its libraries, art and history museums, its devotion to classical music, its scientific laboratories, and its rich communities of writers and artists, make it more than a sprawling franchise center.
While Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nevada, seem to me to be on the verge of desiccation, unnatural places that have no connection to the parched actuality of their landscape, Albuquerque has an organic reality, one that’s often wasted, but one that still exists. Denver is a Rocky Mountain Portland, and Salt Lake City, rich with great architecture, is the capital of a culture beyond the grasp of many of us.
Reading local papers on the road, I found much good hometown reporting, but also the rather alarming existence of a single dominant paper. In Wyoming, it’s the Casper Star-Tribune. In gigantic Montana, it’s the Billings Gazette in the east and the Great Falls Tribune in the west. I started to wonder how Albuquerque’s and New Mexico’s multifaceted fascinations could be adequately represented by a single statewide daily newspaper.
When Scripps Howard’s Albuquerque Tribune folded last year, worry was expressed that Albuquerque would not only be bereft of alternative voices and points of view, but that the one daily left was overwhelmingly conservative and would give a distorted view of local news and culture.
No one suggested then that the Albuquerque Journal would become a sort of Fox News in newsprint. And, indeed, that hasn’t happened. The Journal does not practice a madcap, idiot kind of journalism. But the paper’s bias and preferences are far right of center in a city that has always been squeakily balanced between the mediocre right and middling left.
Early this week, for instance, the Journal ran a lead copyrighted piece under the masthead about how conservatives were learning to use nonprofit organizations to propagate conservatism. That’s not front page news. Why copyright a piece like that? Who would want to steal such a gem? That’s roughly as interesting and relevant as the Tribune headlines in the l980s which declared in Pearl Harbor-sized type such news as “Golf Fees Raised” or “Winter Storm Seen.”
While the right-wing Journal dominates, and even KNME-TV runs a weekly political talk panel made up of three conservatives and one very moderate liberal guest who gets regularly beaten to a pulp, it’s not accurate to say that Albuquerque is a one voice town.
It’s a far too interesting a place for that. The fact is, I think, that Albuquerque has a more varied media now than it’ s ever had. It’s just in new formats. It’s a media that reflects the catalyzing diversity of thought that makes up the city’s hidden life of the mind.
I’m always taken aback when I talk to old friends, many of them scholars, who bemoan the lack of good journalism in our town. They just aren’t looking in the right places, even now after almost a decade of the blogosphere.
But it’s the world of the blogs and internet media that reveals the existence of Albuquerque’s life of the mind. Of course I’m partial to The New Mexico Independent, to Laura Paskus’ Environment for New Mexicans, and to Journal science writer John Flecks blog ” inkstain.” There are so many other internet voices that it’s almost impossible to keep up with them, but folks have to if they want to keep informed.
They include my favorite m-pyre, Clearly New Mexico, Democracy for New Mexico, Duke City Fix, Joe Monahan’s New Mexico Politics, Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics, Kate Nash’s Green Chile Chatter, Alterdestiny, and Jim Baca’s Only in New Mexico. And there are dozens more.
This electronic world is feeling like 19th century urban journalism, with publications by virtually every mindset and persuasion crowding and crowing and working hard to be heard. It’s a world Walt Whitman would feel comfortable in. He worked for or edited more than a dozen publications before he wrote Leaves of Grass.
This kind of journalistic diversity doesn’t really compete with the Journal, it just swamps it, overflows it, and cuts into its readership base. There’s not a struggle for ad revenue between the Journal and the blogs. While some blogs take advertising, money is not the primary motive for most of them.
Coming back from the mountain west in which whole states are served by one big city paper, I wonder what New Mexico would be like without the Journal?
I’m beginning to think that far from dominating media in the city and state, the Albuquerque Journal is a shrinking giant in a world of Liliputian tabs and blogs that are tying it down and draining its energies.
I wonder if the Journal can survive if it keeps to its current front page froth, crime sensationalism, and archly conservative bias?