Losing a Voice
Back to School season makes me think of the start of The Coast. The last year of my formal education—what the fickle memory of nostalgia knows as “the end of the best years of your life”—I avoided homework by plotting with five friends to launch a newspaper. Three of us six were from Toronto, so wanted to do something like TO’s “alternative weekly” NOW Magazine. One was from the remotest part of remote Cape Breton, but through family connections he’d visited Boston a lot, so the alt-weekly he aspired to was the Phoenix.
My family ties bound me to New York, thus I thought of The Village Voice. It turned out The Voice was the most famous of the alts, making it the best one to compare the potential Coast to. People got excited when we told them, “We want to do a Village Voice for Halifax.”
The deeper we got, the more enamoured we became of The Voice’s role as inventor of alternative journalism. A couple years into The Coast’s existence, publisher Christine Oreskovich left Halifax to take an internship at The Voice; she wasn’t fully committed to returning, because once you’ve reached the pinnacle, why would you leave it? But after some time on the inside, seeing the gaps between The Voice’s reputation and its reality, she came back and doubled-down on Halifax and The Coast. That was 20-something years ago.
Last week’s news, that after 62 years The Voice will stop printing papers, inspired nostalgic stories from across the mediasphere, with subtext every alt weekly will go this way. The thing is, for people in alternative media, The Village Voice has long been an example of what not to do. Buying other newspapers and merging with competitors across the US, it aspired to be a giant media company, while its flagship paper and website withered into irrelevance for New Yorkers and anyone else.
Business realities are no sunnier in the alternative niche than the rest of media—Boston’s Phoenix closed years ago. But in a world where Google and Facebook command attention and advertising dollars at literally a global scale, focusing on local is the only viable play. It’s fine people don’t talk about The Coast in Winnipeg. You’re still picking it up in Halifax, and that’s what matters.