Weld has been misidentified as an alternative weekly on several occasions. Sometimes people seem to have a hard time understanding why we resist that label. And to be sure, as noted in a recent local magazine article, three of Weld’s founders came from the world of alt-weeklies. So it would be hard to argue that, certainly at the beginning of the paper’s run five years ago, Weld obviously shared DNA with alt-weeklies.
But the paper has evolved. We believe it is moving in the right direction and become what it was meant to be: a community newspaper. Still, it might be worth explaining why we say that the Weld of 2016, and indeed most of its existence, differs from an alt-weekly.
What’s the difference?
It has to do with focus, content, intent and approach. When the question was put to me — by the former managing editor of this very paper — for that aforementioned magazine story, here’s a slightly edited version of how I answered:
Weld is a community newspaper. We share the same sense of news value that traditional newspapers demonstrate. An alt-weekly is not designated as such just because it happens not to be a daily. The term refers to the fact that the people who create it intend for it to fly in the face of traditional news coverage, in content and tone and style.
In actual practice the alt paper tends to serve a niche audience, an alternative group of readers from traditional papers. Weld, on the other hand, aims to cover news of interest to the whole community. Whereas alt papers often are driven by a particular point of view, which manifests itself both in commentary (where it belongs) and news coverage (where it does not), traditional newspapers seek to present news that reflects a determined lack of bias in its news coverage. So while the alt paper seeks to serve the narrow interests of a segment of the community, and in some cases to deliberately alienate other segments, traditional newspapers — imperfectly, of course — seek to inform and enlighten a broad cross section of a community.
Weld is intended to be a paper for everyone, which you can plainly see if you read our approach to news. While we do have commentary, we welcome divergent viewpoints from readers in our op-ed columns, and we set out to deliver the news in such a way that people of any persuasion can make up their own minds. As editor, I’m still inspired by the motto of the company where I got my start: Give light and the people will find their own way. And that’s what we try to do at Weld for Birmingham — for all the people in the community.
So at Weld we seek to cover what matters to the community, recognizing that the community includes more than what is contained within the city limits of Birmingham proper. We look at “Birmingham” the way people have traditionally looked at it: as including the suburbs and surrounding areas of the metro. So our coverage is not restricted by the boundaries of the city, just as the concerns of people living in the area also don’t stop at manmade borders. That’s one of the reasons we also reach for stories of interest from outside the city, the county and even the state — as newspapers have traditionally done, carefully curating the content we offer to help our readers become better informed about the world around them.
It is the idea of news curation that forms the basis of Weld’s content every week, but there are other forces at play as well — economic ones. The fact is that the news industry has contracted; it has shrunk. And Weld is a small newspaper in terms of staff and resources, not to mention one that publishes in print only once a week. That means that we have to make hard choices about what to cover and when, sometimes taking a long view. We may not be able to immediately cover everything with the human resources at our disposal or the time constraints we work under. Some stories have to wait until we have the opportunity cover them properly.
While I often wish we had the number of boots on the ground necessary to tackle every newsworthy subject as soon as it pops into public consciousness, having to make choices means finding ways to cover our stories in ways that go deep and look beyond the basics of standard daily news writing. Our goal is to make every news story we cover worth the time a reader will have to invest in it, and to give a meaningful consideration to each person, issue or event.
Weld identifies as a newspaper, but we have a lot in common with the tradition of standard, mainstream papers, yes, but also that of weekly news magazines like Time and its longtime rival Newsweek. As we eagerly embrace the opportunities, the reach and the audience the web affords us through weldbham.com, we also continue down a path trodden by some of our journalistic forebears — a path that allows time to develop stories and results in news accounts that are fuller, more complete, more thoughtful and, yes — longer.
So can we cover everything? Realistically, no.
Still, as we consider what news to cover, we think carefully about what affects the community, what the community is interested in, what the community needs to know and in particular, what is not being covered, or adequately covered elsewhere.
Weld’s approach is not easy, as we seek to uphold and advance the cause of traditional journalism at a time when many would say that such is doomed and tumbling headlong toward obsolescence. Are we stubborn to swim against the tide, to insist on producing stories that dare to demand more of a reader’s attention span than conventional wisdom suggests is even available today? Maybe.
But the reaction we get when a story in Weld hits home, when changes are made, when the course of important public discourse is affected, when essential questions are raised, or a spotlight is properly trained on those who have power and responsibility and when issues people didn’t know existed become part of the local conversation — all that makes clear that it matters how we discharge our duties.
At Weld we enjoy our work, but we tend to view it as a public trust. We see our relationship with the community as as that of providing a service, one that has value. We hope you feel the same.