Regular readers know every now and so often I saddle up and take a look at what’s left of Kansas City’s one-and-only alternative newsweekly, The Pitch. And, full disclosure, I did lead the charge during the Pitch’s key formative years evolving it from a record store rag into a news and entertainment weekly prior to a certain someone breaking their word and hanging me out to dry.
However those days are long gone and at this stage of the game there continues to be a genuine concern for the well-being and survival of The Pitch, and thus the future of alternative news and entertainment journalism in KC. Oh sure, we’ve got the Internet and me and Tony and Greg Hall and Jim Fitzpatrick and a smattering of comers and goers here and there.
And while that’s likely the future in some sense, none of us – not even all of us combined – come close to providing the wide spectrum of more comprehensive, quality reporting and content that even what’s left of The Pitch provides.I say, “what’s left,” because at only 36 pages a week and a scant 16 pages of what appear to be paid ads (well under the 50 percent minimum needed for survival), the handwriting’s on the wall.
Because even as vastly improved at the vastly important print edition Pitch is – that’s where the money’s made after all, not online – there’s barely enough revenue there to support the skeleton staff of starving artists from my regime in the early 1990s, let alone the far higher paid (and greater in number) staff of the today’s Pitch.
Even the now sexless “Back Page” ads have thinned out, for the betterment of the underage, runaway, sex slaves that populated the former regime’s back cover. But to the detriment of the paper’s bottom line because not only does sex sell, it pays well.
There’s still a heaping helping of lame sex ads that The Pitch at this point simply cannot afford to turn away. Ads that hurt it with legit advertisers who might otherwise become paying customers, and with key distribution points that refuse to carry the Pitch at the risk of offending customers.
And while The Pitch‘s all-important fine print classifieds section has all but vanished, you can still find “an incredible body rub” or locate an “attractive, 38 DD Brunette, full-figured 43 year old” or “Horny Housewives.”
Sad as it seems, the above advertisers are helping prop up The Pitch as the sand runs out of its hourglass. Meanwhile, its quarter page ads beseeching attractive, young locals to apply for a “multimedia advertising sales pro” position or that of a “sales & marketing assistant” ring hollow.
After all, what salesman of any quality wants to hop on a sinking ship?
I shudder when I think back to how poorly paid the sales reps at The Pitch were in the days when we were putting out 36 page issues. Thirty-six pages issues with 50 to 60 percent advertising in them though. And sans the horny housewives and genuine, all-Asian massage personnel.
What makes it sadder is that editor Scott Wilson, taking over for the Village Voice abandon snipers has done a remarkable job of holding things together and actually improving both the print and online product despite his meager resources. Doing so with smart hires like investigative reporter Steve Vockrodt.
I hate to say it, but it will be a sad day and a loss for Kansas City if somebody at the Star doesn’t rescue Vockrodt and install him as the second coming of Dan Margolies. A kinder, gentler, hipper, harder working Dan Margolies, I might add. How much could it cost them, Vockrodt’s working at The Pitch for crying out loud and they still need to hire a few live bodies at 18th and Grand.
How bad are things in alternative journalism? Really bad.
Check out this from the Pew Research Center report on the State of the News Media 2012:
“Alternative weeklies experienced a number of changes this year, from shifts within the main trade organization, to major staff upheavals at popular papers, and an ever-increasing focus on digital media and revenue.
“Unfortunately, it was also a year that saw a double-digit decline in circulation at key papers. After only a modest decline of 0.59% in 2010, 2011 had a 13.8% dropoff in the circulation of the top 20 papers that belong to the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
“The paper that had the largest decline in circulation was SF Weekly, an alt weekly owned by Village Voice Media. Circulation at the San Francisco newspaper dropped by 23.57%, and it no longer ranks within the top 20 U.S. weeklies. Another top-tier paper that faced dwindling circulation was Creative Loafing Atlanta. Although it had a nearly 4% increase in circulation in 2010, it declined by 14.57% in 2011.”
“For the nation’s alternative weekly newspapers, 2012 proved to be another year of contraction and churn as the industry sought new ways to build better revenue models.
“Some papers engaged in substantial experimentation on the digital side in 2012, but at this point, monetizing the online business remains largely an elusive goal. There were other efforts to generate new revenue as well.
“One interesting trend in 2012 saw having larger legacy newspaper companies buying alternative weeklies. The Chicago Reader, SF Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian were all sold to parent companies of such papers in 2012. While this could be viewed as a positive development, it did not work well for one alt weekly. That was The Other Paper, a Columbus weekly that was bought by the company that owns that city’s mainstream daily, which closed it in early 2013.
“There were significant changes at the Village Voice, the country’s best known and oldest alt weekly. Its circulation dropped substantially, several staff writers were laid off, its editor resigned and its parent company was sold.”
Circulation at the top 20 alt weeklies fell 11 percent…think cost cutting.
Pew’s 2014 “State of the News Media” doesn’t appear to be out yet but will likely be released shortly.
It’s hard to imagine anything positive coming – especially looking at The Pitch – with the possible exception of the Star buying it and hopefully not folding it into (yuck) INK.