Jeff Vonkaenel, president of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, said alternative newspapers, such as Utah's Private Eye, take angles that are often overlooked by traditional daily newspapers.
"There is a tremendous freedom in not being the paper of record," Vonkaenel said. "Instead of going and getting a canned quote from the governor, a quote which he doesn't even really believe himself, we get to the heart of the matter."Milt Hollstein, professor of communications at the University of Utah, said that while alternative newspapers do go into greater depth with some stories, they fail to cover the whole spectrum of news and don't make quite the distinction between news and opinion that traditional daily newspapers do.
"Alternative newspapers march to the beat of their own drummer," Hollstein said. "They tend to cover news events in a more rakish way, a more outspoken way. They are less awed by and respectful of authority."
Vonkaenel agrees with Hollstein's characterization, adding that he enjoys the differences between traditional and alternative presses.
The role of alternative papers is to illuminate - not titillate - Vonkaenel said. "Some journalists try and do stories on the man who sleeps with his wife's mother. We focus on the people who are trying to make a better living for themselves on minimum wage or how to be a good person in the 1990s.
"We say, `Let's look at different proposals.' We ask the question: `How can welfare for single mothers be changed for the better?' "
Both Hollstein and Vonkaenel said alternative journalists strive to rouse others from complacency.
Alternative newsweeklies started to take root in the early 1970s. Vonkaenel said national concerns such as the Vietnam War, the women's rights movement, gay and lesbian issues and environmental concerns helped more and more alternative newspapers spring up around the county. "During that time period, things needed to be re-examined . . . We have a lot of the same concerns today."
Vonkaenel, who owns the Sacramento News and Review, Chico News and Review and Reno News and Review, said a person who reads Utah's Private Eye would get a much different view of Salt Lake City than the person who reads the Desert News.
He went on to say alternative papers are capable of provoking thought. "There is a much better political debate and the arts are better attended in a city that has an alternative paper," he said. "Alternative newspapers can have a tremendous impact on a city."
Hollstein agrees with Vonkaenel, "Alternative journalists add another voice."
"Alternative papers are for those people who are tired of the oil at Santa Barbara beach or the air in Los Angeles," Vonkaenel said.
Hollstein said that while alternative presses don't pretend for a second to replace the more established community presses, they do have a loyal following.
In describing what they were looking for in alternative newspapers, the admissions committee for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies wrote, "We were looking for papers that showed a commitment to news, quality writing and innovative story ideas." The committee went on to give "an enthusiastic recommendation" to only five of 15 alternative newspapers applying for membership in 1996.
The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, which consists of 104 newspapers, held its 19th annual national convention in Salt Lake City, Thursday through Saturday at the Red Lion Inn.
The purpose of the conference was to provide training and education, network story ideas and have a good time, according to Vonkaenel.