While much of the nation debates the fate of the Big Sleazy, my own New Orleans oracling has been somewhat more particular: I wonder what will happen to New Orleans' alternative newspaper, Gambit Weekly, currently on indefinite hiatus. I won't claim objectivity on this matter. The (former?) arts and entertainment editor of Gambit -- David Lee Simmons -- is a good friend of mine. He's the guy who got me started in alternative journalism.
So I've been reading Notes from the Underground, a new collection of stories from the nation's alternative presses. The book includes stories from both Gambit and Creative Loafing.
Like New Orleans in the family of American cities, alternative weeklies are the papers you don't bring home to mother. We consort with sex workers, strippers and cross-dressers. We praise wild-eyed idealists too idiotic to know they can't win. We use swear words when we think the offense calls for it, or sometimes just because we can. (Fuckity fuck fuck fuck.)
In Notes, you'll find stories of train-hopping hobos; high-priced, semi-retired call girls; marijuana; pedophilia; and polygamy. Yup, making our J-school mentors proud.
But read beyond the headlines and you'll detect what Steve Almond calls -- reflecting on his years with the Miami New Times -- "a moral agenda: to afflict the comfortable, to comfort the afflicted. ... We were revolting against the obedient superficiality of the mainstream press."
Alt-weeklies bust up the pat platitudes and preconceptions you'll read in corporate dailies. Not to say that alternative weeklies are never guilty of sensationalism, but at our best, we're selling (actually, giving away for free) an authentic understanding of realities on or outside the margins of mainstream society and, like New Orleans before the flood, giving a home to people who can't abide the muzzled middle.
Note: The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies is collecting a fund to assist the employees of Gambit Weekly. Send checks made payable to the Alternative Newsweekly Foundation, 1250 Eye St. NW, Suite 804, Washington, D.C., 20005. Write "Gambit Fund" in the memo section. 202-289-8484. www.aan.org.
Notes from the Underground: The Most Outrageous Stories from the Alternative Press, Nancy Armstrong (ed.). $14.95. Chamberlain Bros. 338 pages.