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The paper's Uncensored section plays a big role in its success--like it or not

Looks good, doesn't it? The pages are cleaner and less inky; the whole thing is easier to read.

"It doesn't look so much like it's in Chinese," is how Joann Hardy Carranza, the Weekly's dauntless general manager, puts it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure it's any easier to find Connie and me, which, I have to say, is a personal disappointment. In the prototype we saw a few weeks ago, us rotating chick-columnists were still waving for help from a left-hand page. So it goes. I've got friends who claim they can't find me, no matter how hard they look. There's no way to know whether they actually try, but I prefer to blame the layout rather than think they're that tired of my gassing.

Most of us at the prototype-revelation meeting a few weeks ago liked the book's firmer organization. (There were also many complaints. You want to hear snark? Put a bunch of writers in a room, open the bar and count to three.) In general, though, the reaction seemed positive.

One particularly popular feature was the more emphatic break between the music and adult sections. I remember my 16-year-old son and his friends being tremendously, noisily offended by girlie ads facing the music listings: "It makes it look like people who are interested in music are into this!" They were perhaps too worried about guilt by association, but they had a point. A lot of people don't like seeing that stuff.

A whole lot of other people do like it.

The Weekly would like nothing more than to delight everyone, including those of us seeking things most of us would prefer not to think about. This desire is practical: The bigger and happier the paper's audience, the more money the rag makes. And all of us writers, no matter how far we are above the merely commercial side of things, like getting paid.

The truth is that the personal ads, both naughty and nice, bring in cash and attract readers. Those of us on the content end would like to think it's all about us, but the listings and cartoons and zillions of ads are just as responsible for the paper's robust health as we are: Joann and her staff are regularly stunned by the sheer variety of people who own up to turning straight to Uncensored. Only for fun, naturally.

Given the Old Testament temper of the times, "Adult Content: Does it Help or Hurt?" is a hot issue for weeklies everywhere. Joann says that the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies' recent conventions have been abuzz about what to do about smut. It's a hard call, because it's not at all clear that readers are changing as fast as moral fashion, or for that matter, that they're changing at all. One alternative paper back east went PG and lost circulation. A Colorado weekly tried segregating the dirty bits in an easily disposable center pull-out, which resulted in phone-sex ads and Barbie breasts plastered all over the sidewalks around the distribution boxes. The clean-minded, it appears, litter.

Alternative papers live or die by their small ads. A big, varied advertising base is the foundation of an editorially independent publication, and the classifieds are the smallest, most diverse ads of all. A paper supported by two big accounts simply can't say the things that a paper with 500 little ones can.

The Weekly started out in 1984 with 12 pages, two colors and nothing in the back more risqué than calls for roommates and housesitters. By 1986, when it had hit 36 pages, the Attractive MWM Seeking Discrete Encounters and Adventurous Bisexual WF were already prowling among the Slim Nonsmokers Looking for Laughter and Long Walks. By '94, when Best of Tucson® ran 128 pages, the dark and light sides had diverged with the birth of the Uncensored section. (It's not easy to say exactly when this happened. The Weekly's easily reachable archives are about what you'd expect: a foot-high heap of back issues in a corner.) All these years, the paper's freedom to mouth off has rested on an unshakeable foundation of local enterprise and human loneliness.

If you don't want your child or aged parent thumbing through the back of the book--and who could blame you?--staple those pages together. Or slice them out. (Do place them, however, in the nearest trash receptacle.)

It's everybody's paper. It is what it is. Do with it what you will.

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