Though alternative journalism traces its roots to the muckrakers of the early 1900s, the alternative newsweekly as we know it got its start in 1955, when Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and Norman Mailer printed their first Greenwich Village-focused news tabloid from a two-bedroom apartment in New York City.
The Village Voice expanded its coverage area to the rest of the city a few years later and, in its long history, has published ground-breaking and award-winning journalism (including three Pulitzers), covering hard news, politics, arts, and culture.
Soon, other papers sprouted up in the style of the Voice, to rival their conservative daily counterparts. Today, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia—formed in 1978 with 30 newspapers, including San Francisco Bay Guardian, Creative Loafing, Phoenix New Times, Willamette Week, and the Chicago Reader—counts 130 alt weeklies as members and acknowledges that it only accepts about 30 percent of those that apply. The number of newsweeklies that have come and gone is impossible to count.
Sufficient start-up capital was a challenge, as was securing advertisers, many of whose political views aligned closely with those espoused by the editors of the dailies. Oklahoma is home to two alt weeklies—the Oklahoma Gazette in Oklahoma City and Urban Tulsa Weekly in Tulsa—both of which are members of AAN. Their predecessors are hard to trace (some of them only lasted a couple of issues) and include monthlies and bi-monthlies. But here are some highlights from what we found while digging through the annals of Oklahoma’s alt publishing history.
Text from timeline above:
Victor E. Harlow, Editor and President
“A journal of comment and current events for Oklahoma,” Harlow’s Weekly published news and political commentary in Tulsa. It was tabloid size and text heavy, with just a few black-and-white photos, and its content was thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “The Weekly claimed to provide ‘logical thinking and accurate information’ about major state events and to offer news that Oklahomans could not read in other newspapers. With an uncanny sense of happenings at the state capital, Harlow often reported his predictions of important political decisions before other newspapers printed their accounts of the events.” Harlow also published news pertaining to women and minorities, as well as poetry and short stories by local and regional writers. It was circulated both regionally and nationally.
The American Indian
Lee F. Harkins, Editor and Publisher
The American Indian was a Native American-focused news magazine written in large part for and by natives. Harkins had Chickasaw and Choctaw blood, and his paper delivered news pertinent to local tribes but without the editorializing—sometimes negative; sometimes ill-informed—of its white-owned counterparts. For its time, it pushed the envelope of how tribal news was reported, and it also made it pertinent and relevant to whites. That it always featured a pretty maiden— sometimes in modern dress, sometimes in traditional native dress—on its cover certainly helped its sales.
Published by Walter C. Cox and Jack W. Long
Using the tag line “Who Did What, Where and When in T-Town,” Tulsa Downtowner was a weekly, pocket-sized directory of events and entertainment in downtown Tulsa. Its content was mostly ads for area restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, as well as photos of notable Tulsans out and about. Filler content, written by “Wally” Cox, provided commentary on various social events. The cover featured a photo of a pretty girl, and on page 2 was a letter from home to a Tulsa military serviceman, called “Letter to a T-Towner.” There were usually a few pages of sports-related editorial, and on the back cover was a pencil drawing of an unnamed man, different each issue and likely recognizable to the readers at the time, dubbing him “Mr. Downtowner.” In 1950, Tulsa, This Week, published by Jack Ellison, emerged as a competitor to the Downtowner. Ellison published similar content in a similar-sized magazine with a similar pretty girl on the cover, but his book was glossy and its cover in color.
John Woodie Jr., Publisher & Managing Editor
Robert E. “Bob” Roberts, Editor-in-Chief
Oklahoma Limited was founded in Tulsa in 1969 (though its first issue says the year is 1968) and published as a tabloid-sized rag with local social and political commentary, especially as it pertained to blacks, minorities, and segregation. Its founders were recent college graduates who, taking their cues from the Village Voice, set out to “change the world” with their paper, Bob Roberts said. Its contributors included current and future activists and politicians, like Finis Smith, Julian Bond, and Don Ross. It circulated about 25,000 copies every two weeks and “aspire(d) to make it one of the best newspapers of its kind in the country,” John Woodie told United Press International. Financial woes did the paper in, even after its headquarters moved from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. It’s unclear when publishing ceased. Roberts estimates there were about seven to 10 issues.
The Oklahoma Observer
Frosty Troy, Founding Editor (retired)
Arnold Hamilton, Editor
The Oklahoma Observer was first founded in Oklahoma City by Father John Joyce as the Southwest Courier, a liberal political rag funded by Catholic Archdiocesan Council. The council yanked their support, though, when Joyce came out as an opponent of the Vietnam War, so he sold the paper to Frosty and Helen Troy, who used it to publish independent, left-leaning political commentary from the state capital. In 2006, Arnold and Beverly Hamilton came on board to “help transition the Observer into the state’s second century,” its website states. Troy retired in 2007 but remains on the board, and the paper continues to be published every 10th and 25th of the month.
The Tulsa Settler
Randy Morton, Editor
The Tulsa Settler published its first issue July 23, 1973, printing poetry, arts, and music news, an events calendar, astrology, and comics. Stories in issue No. 6, dated Oct. 5-19, 1973, which is available at the Tulsa Library, include the art of tie-dyeing, Tommy Hager’s fowl farm and a study on vegetarianism. In that issue, editor Randy Morton announced a three-month publishing hiatus to allow the paper to regroup and refocus, and while it did publish an issue in December 1973, it’s unclear whether or not publishing continued after that.
Bill Bleakly, Publisher
When Bill Bleakley, an Oklahoma City lawyer, founded the Oklahoma Gazette, his intention wasn’t to publish left-of-center political commentary or arts and entertainment news. Instead, he founded it as a bi-monthly preservation periodical, inspired by the historic neighborhood where his law office was located, Crown Heights. Cynthia Emrick, now Cynthia Archiniaco, who was the director of the Oklahoma Office of Historic Trust, was the paper’s volunteer editor. Bleakley published in that vein for a couple of years, and then someone showed him a copy of Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly.
“It had all this arts and entertainment coverage in it and calendars,” Bleakley said. “I thought it was wonderful.” Oklahoma Gazette started adding similar content in the early 1980s, and in 1985 was accepted into the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Today, the paper’s circulation is 52,500 and aims to recognize both the good and bad of OKC and to improve the city through the stimulation of ideas and information.
Mark Matthews, Publisher
Mark Brown, Editor
Mark Matthews first founded Info magazine as a promotion vehicle for one of his nightclubs, the Beat Club. A full-page ad in the alternative paper of the time, Uptown News, cost $1,500, Matthews said, but publishing his own rag would only cost $800, so that’s what he did. With This Land’s Mark Brown at the editorial helm, Info modeled itself off of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, publishing short interviews, profiles, and biographies of notable Tulsans every other month, soliciting contributions from some of the city’s best writers and photographers. Model and actress Amber Valetta, 14 and living in Tulsa at the time, was Info’s first cover model. After 12 issues, Info hit a plateau, Matthews said, and stopped publishing. He went on to open several popular restaurants and bars, including Tucci’s, Cellar Dweller, and Crystal Pistol.
Published by William Brewster, Christopher Schmieg, and Steve Beard
Founded by three friends as an “alternative to the alternative,” Infinity Press was a monthly publication similar to Urban Tulsa Weekly. Schmieg and Beard first set out to publish a poetry rag, an admittedly self-indulgent feat, Beard says, but Brewster came on board with the marketing expertise to compete with the only alt pub available on stands at the time. Infinity Press published poetry, interviews with local musicians, and stories relating to politics, environmental issues, sciences and social issues. “We didn’t just focus on Tulsa,” Beard said. “That’s one of the reasons we named it Infinity Press.” Its liberal slant was “extremely refreshing” to readers used to the conservative Urban Tulsa, and Beard contends that the competition between the two papers had the effect of improving their overall content. The paper stopped running when its founders disbanded in pursuit of individual endeavors.
Tom Barlow, Publisher
The Current is a music- and entertainment-focused magazine circulating in northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. Features include entertainment, green and sustainable living, healthy living, dining out, entrepreneurship, the outdoors, art, theater, music, and editorials.