A friend sent me a link to a Red Meat comic recently. I used to read that strip religiously, but I abandoned it about a decade ago. Which is how I came to read Max Cannon’s desperate screed about the shrinking of “local alt weeklies,” as he calls them.
I feel for the guy, as well as the many other cartoonists who he says are in the same boat. I do! Their world is being rent asunder beneath their feet. Things will probably get worse before they get better. But I tell you the one damn thing that absolutely will not work: having your readers wage a letter-writing campaign to the editors. These institutions are fighting for their very existence. You and your devoted readers are barely a blip on their panicked radar.
It’s not just local alt weeklies with a problem. Earlier this month, the Rocky Mountain News went out of business. It was 150 years old. Currently the largest newspaper forced out of business by the ongoing economic recession, but it probably won’t hold that record for long. If the Rocky Mountain News had carried Red Meat, do you think they would have given a rat’s whisker about Max Cannon’s predicament? Ha ha ha.
I used to be pretty worried about this. Blogs are great and all, but which of them is going to have the money to send reporters to Iraq to cover what’s going on over there? The newspapers seem to be trying this tactic as well: “You will miss us when we’re gone!”
Despite feeling bad for all of you in that predicament: actually, no. I won’t miss you. In fact, I wish you’d hurry up and fail more quickly. The sooner you are gone and out of the way, the sooner alternatives can sprout into your former space.
Recently I read two really good articles that changed my thinking on this topic. First: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, an almost unbelievably good article by the always-insightful Clay Shirky. If you had to boil it down to one short concept, it would be this: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” And then he explains how we’re going to get there. Second: Old Growth Media and the Future of News, by Steven Berlin Johnson. I’d never heard of this guy before, but this article was good enough for me to put him into my RSS reader.
Max Cannon’s screed explains that he doesn’t put strips on his website to make money. He’s just doing it out of the goodness of his heart for his fans. The newspapers are his bread and butter. In that case, Max, it’s time to change your business model. Married to the Sea is a screamingly funny webcomic created by a married couple named Drew and Natalie. They support themselves and their infant child with income from merchandise they sell on the strength of their multiple humor websites.
Despite me not liking his strip that much anymore, I’m sure Max Cannon has his fans. He’s been drawing it for over 20 years now. One would hope that he’s at least as resourceful as all these young whippersnappers who are finding a way to make money off this newfangled “internet” thing? Surely.