Change, they say, is inevitable. Change, they also insist, is good—perhaps as a way of ameliorating the raw, stressful factuality of that first statement. Change is definitely inevitable. But that thing about it being good? Not always a guarantee.
Over the course of its nearly 30 years in business (it actually turns 28 in October), the Weekly Alibi has seen an incalculable number of changes. Heck, when it started out in 1992 the paper was bi-weekly. On that very first issue, the title NuCity graced the masthead. Three years later, after a somewhat amicable lawsuit from our friends at Chicago’s New City newspaper, the name was changed to Weekly Alibi. (We threw a “Chicago-style sausage toss” party at the Sunshine Theatre to celebrate.) Since then the paper has altered dimensions, page count, paper stock, dominant font and layout with regularity. We’ve switched offices at least five times. Editors and editorial visions have morphed over time. Over the decades countless staff members have come and gone—some to ignominy, some to better-paying gigs (from press secretaries to cannabis growers to registered nurses). And more than a few have graduated from our pages to great acclaim. Founding staffer Simón Romero is now an award-winning writer for the New York Times and served as their bureau chief in Brazil. Our very first editor in chief, Lauri Sagle, works as an instructor and “director of composition” in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i Hilo. Inaugural news section editor Angie Drobnic Holan went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her work at PolitiFact. Our former lawyer Ashley Gauthier Messenger is currently associate general counsel for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. Long-serving arts section editor Steven Robert Allen is now director of public policy for ACLU of New Mexico. We couldn’t be prouder of these and so many other ex-staffers. Sad to report, we’ve also been forced to mourn beloved Alibi staffers who have passed away before their time: Michael Henningsen, Martin Candelaria, Gregory Medara, to name a few.
But one thing has definitely not changed here at the Alibi in the last 28 years: This has been a locally owned and operated newspaper since day one.
The Old Boss
Back in 1992 Christopher Johnson made a bold decision, selling off a satirical, college-centric rag he founded in Madison, Wisc. called The Onion (maybe you’ve heard of it) and searching metropolitan areas around the nation for a new place to call home and start a serious weekly alternative newspaper. Rolling into Fred’s Breads and Bagels in Nob Hill with his college pal and business partner Dan Scott, Johnson decided Albuquerque had just what he wanted. With a Powerbook 140, a Macintosh SE and a rented laser printer, Johnson and his crew of local volunteer writers (we were paid in Fred’s Bread coupons) got to work. The first issue of NuCity (a 12-page, black-and-white affair) hit the record shops and coffee houses of Central Ave. on Oct. 9, 1992. Natural Sound, Dingo Bar, Beyond Ordinary, Bandito Hideout, Guild Theatre and La Montañita Co-op were among the advertisers in that inaugural issue. Volume 1, Issue 1 of that scrappy, hand-assembled alt.weekly publication gave local readers their first glimpse of Rob Brezsny’s “Real Astrology” (which we still publish today) and went on—in the months and years to come—to introduce Burque audiences to countless local bands, restaurants, cartoonists, art galleries, movies, authors, poets and politicians.
After nearly three decades in the publishing business, however, the paper’s original owners and founders, Johnson and Scott, have decided to sell the business. That “inevitable” change has finally come to us. … But it’s not as great a change as some might think. In fact, it may actually validate that old “change is good” axiom. Just last week it was revealed that the Alibi’s new owners are currently serving Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis and his business partner Abby Lewis. So guess what, people: We’re still gonna be locally owned and operated.
The New Boss
In addition to representing District 6 (encompassing the University of New Mexico, Nob Hill and the International District) since 2015, Davis also founded the nonprofit advocacy organization ProgressNow New Mexico. That organization, launched in 2013, also has a digital journalistic offshoot called NM Political Report—an independent not-for-profit project of the ProgressNow NM Education Fund. For years Weekly Alibi and NM Political Report have worked together. Alibi has reprinted a number of the group’s digital investigations into politics, environment and more. And the two journalistic groups even cosponsored a 2017 mayoral debate. So, not only does Davis have a background in local politics, he’s no greenhorn when it comes to journalism either. That inspires some confidence in the staff here at the Alibi, and it should inspire some confidence in our readers as well.
There are always concerns when a new sheriff rolls into town. (Did we mention Davis once ran for Bernalillo County Sheriff as well?) Since this transition of power at the Alibi was revealed in a press release last week, some members of the community have begun to wonder out loud how having a new owner (let alone, one who is an active local politician) might affect the Alibi. “Welp, so much for any objective reporting on Pat Davis. (Although, I wouldn’t exactly consider The Alibi objective,)” reads one unhappy reddit thread.
Make no mistake: Pat Davis has ideas. He wants the paper to concentrate even more on local news and is trying to bring more long-term investigative reports into the mix. He wants the paper to have a stronger online presence and will be pushing for more exclusive digital content for today’s smartphone-and-social-media-savvy readers. But these are additions to what is already a successful formula, and they will take time to adopt. For now, readers will see few changes to the Alibi and its contents. The current staff is holding strong, sticking around and will continue to deliver the newspaper Albuquerque readers have come to rely on. Aside from changing the name of the owner on the company masthead from “NuCity Publications” to “Good Trouble LLLP,” readers will scarcely notice the changeover.
But how will Alibi approach local politics—particularly the city council—now that we’re owned by one of the locally elected city councilors? We here on the staff had similar concerns. Hopefully, however, there will be little alteration. Alibi has been committed for a very long time (thanks largely to the dedicated work of writer Carolyn Carlson) to covering the Albuquerque City Council. We’ve often held their feet to the fire and have, on occasion, been a vocal critic of Pat Davis himself over the years. When he does something we think is wrong, we’ve called him on it—and we’ll continue to do so in the future. That’s the plan, anyway. At the same time, we’re also pretty sympatico with Davis’ progressive vision for the city and have praised him for a lot of what he’s done in Albuquerque. (We like his work on marijuana reform, gun buy-backs and eliminating “1033 program” participation from APD.) Davis promises to keep a “firewall” between himself and the editorial department, and we promise not to call him when the city forgets to pick up our trash bins. Rest assured: Alibi will not suddenly become a liberal, Democratic Party propaganda sheet—not any more than has been for the past 28 years, anyway.
The New and the Now
Lest we forget: This major change is taking place in the middle of a global pandemic. When the Coronavirus outbreak hit its first peak in March and we went into lockdown, basically all of New Mexico shut down. Nearly all of the Weekly Alibi’s regular advertisers—bars, restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, art galleries, concert venues, casinos—were closed. Overnight, advertising revenue—the way Alibi pays rent, printing bills, staff salaries—vanished. The paper was forced to take a hiatus, putting a stop to the physical edition for some three months. Everyone on payroll was laid off. Alibi kept publishing digitally, feeding the occasional article to its website and social media accounts in an attempt to keep the brand alive. It was a tough few months.
So much news was happening in our community and across the nation, and we were all champing at the bit to inform our readers about everything from restaurant closures to mask etiquette to that twist at the end of “Tiger King.” Eventually, the paper secured Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration and was able to bring a core staff back to get a physical paper on stands once again. That money has kept us afloat for the past few months. But other New Mexico businesses have had a tough time getting back on their feet. Many of our advertisers still have locked doors. (Restaurants are only now open to 25 percent of indoor capacity, and bars have yet to see a projected opening date from our governor.) Needless to say, businesses that are closed don’t do a lot of advertising. The Alibi’s days, like so many other small local businesses, were numbered.
That’s why the lifeline that Pat Davis has extended to the Alibi is so surprising and so welcome. “Albuquerque needs this now, more than ever,” Davis assured the Alibi staff in its first of many Zoom meetings with the new owner. Davis has already secured the paper a raft of solid new business partners and is working hard with the editorial, production, distribution and sales staff to see what our future and the future of our city looks like. Hopefully, New Mexico’s businesses and cultural attractions will start to safely reopen over the next few months. And thanks to the new ownership, we’ll be here to write about it all.
The bottom line is that the Alibi will continue to publish, weekly and uninterrupted, for the foreseeable future. We hope you will continue to read.