Welcome to our fourth annual “culture” issue. Every June, we here at Memphis devote significant editorial space to a celebration of the people, places, and things that capture and/or represent the spirit and the soul of Memphis. For the past four Junes, we have also published the winner of the Memphis magazine fiction contest, now in its twenty-fourth year of existence.
This particular June we’re also celebrating a cultural phenomenon a bit closer to home: the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Memphis Flyer, our sister publication. Please forgive a little shameless self-promotion here, but for me it’s hard to believe that the Flyer has been informing, entertaining, and hopefully enlightening Memphians, week in and week out, since 1989. There have been more than 1,300 issues, totaling something like 75,000 pages. That’s a lot of paper and ink, although these days, with its daily coverage of all aspects of urban life in the Mid-South, www.memphisflyer.com is as vital a part of this community’s cultural nexus as the print paper.
The local media world has changed dramatically since 1989. Back then, The Commercial Appeal was pretty much the only game in town. Scripps-Howard had merged its two local daily newspapers, the morning CA and the afternoon Memphis Press-Scimitar, in 1983, not long after this magazine had done a cover story (see inset) on this media duopoly. By 1989, the Cincinnati-based chain was operating a wildly successful monopoly here in Memphis; aside from a couple of minnows hugging the bottom (the Memphis Business Journal and Memphis magazine), The Commercial Appeal was the big shark in the local media tank.
All this started to change in 1989. Not that the fledgling Flyer was any kind of real threat to the CA; it did have its journalistic strengths almost from the outset, but there would be years of blood, sweat, and tears before the weekly came close to breaking even. But by the mid-1990s “alternative newsweeklies” like the Flyer had become formidable presences on urban America’s media landscape. By then, the concept of a free-distribution newsweekly with oomph had taken root in Memphis, as had similar papers all across the country. And these were harbingers of even bigger changes to come.
The Internet Revolution didn’t quite come out of nowhere, but when it arrived, it hit regional print-media businesses like a ton of bricks. First came Craigslist, which basically vaporized, almost overnight, the 40 percent of daily-newspaper revenues that were derived from classified advertising. All across America, the dailies reeled and kept on reeling, as wave after wave of digital invention and innovation followed in the early years of this century.
The Flyer also took its lumps, but being lean and mean from the outset served us well during this period, especially during and after the Great Recession of 2008-2009. And the newsweekly changed with the times. Today, with fresh editorial content posted almost hourly, the Flyer reaches as many readers online as it does in print.
Not that the print product itself is fading away. Forty-five thousand copies of the Flyer are distributed every week, and just about all of them get picked up. Actually, the print Flyer is more of a magazine than a newspaper, giving its regular readers an overview of the news of the week just ended, and a preview of what’s to come in the week ahead. It’s a magazine on newsprint, and Memphians still seem to love it.
As someone whose job requires spending as much time online daily as almost anyone in town, I still think there will always be a place for print “magazines” like the Flyer — and this one — for a long time to come. We read magazines differently than we read digitally. We read online to gather information quickly, often as quickly as we can; we read magazines to relax, to reflect, and to broaden our horizons. Just as radio was not “replaced” by television, magazines won’t be “replaced” by the internet. They certainly will play a different role in the media universe of the future, but the good ones — like the Memphis Flyer — aren’t going anywhere. That’s good news.