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Alternative to what? 

The cover of this newspaper each week defines us as "Greater Rochester's alternative newsweekly." The phrase has an important meaning, identifying City as a publication that practices a specific type of journalism: "alternative."

            It's not simply that we are one of many reading alternatives to the Democrat and Chronicle. Alternative newspapers, which have their roots in the '60s and early '70s, are different in subject matter and in editorial approach, to mainstream journalism.

            Among the differences: our general political orientation is obvious. For nearly all alternative newspapers --- more than 100 in the United States and Canada --- that orientation is strongly liberal.

            That doesn't mean we are any politician's or political party's mouthpiece. In City's 32-year history, we've gotten as many calls from angry liberal political leaders as from conservatives. Like any good newspaper, we are committed to truth and fairness in journalism. And we are committed to seeking out viewpoints that other media dismiss. From the beginning, we were part of a movement questioning "the Establishment," and we continue to do that.

            Since their founding, alternatives have recognized the importance of arts and entertainment in our communities, alternative and mainstream. The nation's alternatives were treating rock music seriously long before most dailies decided to, for example. Many of us feature artists on our covers more often than athletes.

            Our mission includes serious analysis of important local issues, which can't be done in short articles. It requires space, and we continue to provide it. We're also committed to excellence in writing, and some of the nation's best journalism is found on the pages of alternative newsweeklies.

You can get a good sense of the nature and influence of alternatives from the list of the 123 members of our national trade association, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. They range from major-city alternatives --- the Village Voice in New York, the Chicago Reader, City Paper in Washington, the Boston Phoenix, the Mirror and Hour Magazine in Montreal, Toronto's Now, San Francisco's Bay Guardian and SF Weekly, the Phoenix New Times, and LA Weekly --- to alternatives in Jackson, Mississippi; Missoula, Montana; Wausau, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho; Maui in Hawaii; and Burlington, Vermont. (In addition to City, AAN papers in New York State are Buffalo's Artvoice, Albany's Metroland, the Ithaca Times, and New Times in Syracuse.)

            The association itself provides invaluable help to its members --- and that means a better newspaper for you as a reader. AAN's three annual conventions and a weekend writing workshop at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism are intense, working events, offering training in every aspect of alternative journalism.

            AAN funds and sponsors a summer-long Academy for Alternative Journalism at Medill and Diversity Internships at AAN papers, both designed to train minority journalists and interest them in alternative journalism.

            City was an early member of AAN. Co-publisher Bill Towler has been a board member for eight years and recently completed a term as AAN president; managing editor Chad Oliveiri serves on the AAN editorial committee.

Being "alternative" doesn't marginalize us. While many daily newspapers have turned to short stories and a weakened editorial page, the continued success of alternative newspapers is proof that many Americans want substance in their media. Particularly in this presidential-election year, alternatives will be playing a significant role in informing and motivating the public.

            As for our progressive editorial stance: Alt-weeklies' readers have a variety of political viewpoints. Many conservatives read us because they want to be exposed to diverse views. Some read us for our arts and entertainment articles. Some read us for our non-political news content. Some probably read us just to get an adrenalin rush.

            You get a sense of the variety of our readership by reading one of the most important parts of this newspaper, our Mail column. There, readers argue with us, argue with one another, and further the public dialogue on issues large and small.

            In a very real sense, City readers form an important, unique community. Next week, we'll tell you a little about that community.

And an invitation: Representative Louise Slaughter will hold a community discussion on the effects of media consolidation on Monday, March 8, from 7 to 9 p.m., at St. John Fisher College. On the program: Slaughter, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, WXXI's Norm Silverstein, Richard Greene of WLVL radio in Niagara County, and City publisher Mary Anna Towler. We hope you'll join us.

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