Alt-Weekly Vet Plans AlterNet Rival

AlterNet’s Hazen skeptical

Ron Curran, a veteran of the alternative press, plans to start his own news and feature service by April 2002.

Titled Pulp Syndicate, the service will go up against the more established AlterNet, launched in the mid-1980s by the non-profit Independent Media Institute (which was then known as the Institute for Alternative Journalism).

“We’ll have a ton of content that’s broader than what AlterNet has now,” says Curran, 41. “And we’ll be offering more exclusive, original content.”

A former editor and writer at LA Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Curran already has some writers lined up, including James Ellroy, the best-selling author of LA Confidential.

Other features of Pulp Syndicate—the name is supposed to convey an “ink-on-fingers” approach—include “an unrivalled comic section,” spot art, illustrations, and an investigative section that would feature methodology on how to research certain hot button issues, Curran says.

“We’ll offer some of the biggest names of the alternative, ‘zine and e-mag press, as well as works from previously unpublished writers and artists,” says Curran. “And we’ll also have an extensive archive of stock photos, spot art and original fonts.”

Curran admits that it isn’t likely Pulp will provide a comfortable home for conservative writers, though he won’t rule it out entirely. AlterNet has been criticized by some AAN members, such as Russ Smith of New York Press, for its exclusive reliance on voices from the left.

Curran will likely have some help in high places, including his former boss, Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

“Ron was for many years our star reporter, city editor and media columnist,” Brugmann wrote in an e-mail to AAN News. “He is uniquely qualified to do the kind of alternative press syndicate he outlines, and we will do everything we can to help him.”

Don Hazen, executive editor of AlterNet and former publisher of Mother Jones, tells AAN News he is not worried about the competition.

“I know nothing of Curran’s plan but I would certainly have a jaundiced view since he and Brugmann have kept a steady drumbeat of attacks on AlterNet through the years,” Hazen says.

Hazen expresses doubts that an upstart syndicate service can match non-profit AlterNet’s 10,000 stories in its archives or its established client relationships.

“AlterNet continues to grow at a steady pace, and we’ve certainly sold hundreds of articles on 9/11 in the last two months,” he says. “We’ve enjoyed a loyal following with many papers.”

“We look forward to whatever healthy competition they might provide,” Hazen says.

To attract top-shelf talent, Curran says his service will offer writers up to two-thirds of story’s fee.

“I was a past contributor to AlterNet. I knew what the priorities are and what it became,” Curran says. “The priorities became exorbitant administrative expenses, and then when the criticism built, it went into self-preservation mode and that came at the expense of the writers.”

Hazen bristles at that comment, saying, “AlterNet has redistributed well over a million dollars to writers during its life. We have a great relationship with content providers and buyers. What Curran doesn’t understand is that a lot of the providers are the newspapers themselves since the staff writers often don’t have rights to their stories.”

Curran expects his clients will include AAN papers along with independent dailies and possibly more mainstream dailies.

“We want to be a one-stop publishing shop,” he says. “And the bottom line is that the papers will benefit, our contributors will benefit, and most of all, readers benefit.”

Curran will be editor and publisher of Pulp Syndicate. Linda Yoon will serve as art director, and Kurt Thomas will serve as Webmaster. Pulp Syndicate will be “self-funded,” Curran maintains.

“We have plenty of money to make it work,” he says. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Matt Pulle is a staff writer for the Nashville Scene.