Oral History: Amy Alexander
April 25, 2009 by Staff
Interviews and research conducted by: Sara Hosch, Michelle Harding
Amy Alexander became a self-proclaimed newspaper junkie at 5 years old.
Inspired by events taking place in her San Francisco community, Alexander taught herself at a very young age the importance of newspapers and information dissemination. Her curiosity for information and “asking questions” led her to the campus newspaper at her high school, where she served as editor her senior year.
Alexander graduated with a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from San Francisco State University. During her time in college, she took a semester off for a fellowship with the Village Voice. Although they offered her a position to stay and continue writing, Alexander felt it was important to continue her schooling to learn the basics and she graduated in 1989.
Driven by events in California including the earthquake of 1989 and the Los Angeles riots surrounding Rodney King, Alexander floated from various publications including The Fresno Bee and the San Francisco Examiner. During her time at The Fresno Bee, Alexander created her own beat about multicultural affairs, which became the main focus of her writing career.
Alexander’s most recent credits include contributions to The Nation, where she covered the 2008 presidential election, the Washington Post, NPR’s News and Notes program, TheRoot.com and Africana.com. Alexander also published Fifty Black Women Who Changed America, co-wrote Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans. Following in her interest in race, gender and media, Alexander is currently working on a book about the recent shift in racial demographics and how the press will play a part in its evaluation.
Alexander was a 2008 Alfred Knobler Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. She currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her children
Newspapers have historically had a huge vacillating nature, and that’s definitely no different in modern times. Author and reporter Amy Alexander remembers being laid off from one of her first jobs at The San Francisco Enquirer – the paper that sparked her interest in journalism – decades ago because they had to cut back. So obviously the current newspaper industry showed signs of struggle even before the country’s economic crisis, and things only got worse when the “perfect storm of forces roiling the media industry and broader economy” came to a head last year (Rosenthal). According to a December article in the Chicago Tribune discussing the Tribune Company’s highly publicized file for bankruptcy protection, numerous other big name papers are currently doing extreme restructuring to avoid the same fate; some include the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and California’s McClatchy Company (Rosenthal).
One of the main reasons causing financial turmoil is substantially decreasing advertising revenue. A recent article in Time magazine blamed the growing popularity of the Internet for the industry’s woes, saying the future of newspapers “seems hopeless…how can the newspaper industry survive the Internet?” (Kinsley). Newspapers’ number one source of revenue comes from classified advertising – and most of that is now easily placed on the web in places like Craigslist.
Both decreasing ad revenue and a flailing demographic contribute to lower newspaper circulation; the Internet is convenient and rapid-fire fast, giving people information whenever they want it, instead of having to “pick up a newspaper in damp or encased plastic bags…planted outside in the bushes where it’s cold, full of news that is cold because it’s been sitting around for hours” (Kinsley). More people read news stories than ever before in today’s society, but they’re reading it all online (Rose).
Alexander, an impressively experienced and influential woman in the field of both newspapers and books, acknowledges the hardships that even she’s having in finding work at the moment – she will be the first to tell you that while reporting is the most fulfilling job out there, the money doesn’t carry far. Throughout the years, with all the highs and lows that she’s witnessed in the industry, she recognized that she has a direct relationship with the success and state of newspapers: newspapers folding and jobs becoming scarce obviously equals a lower salary and harder search.
However, as said before, newspapers have always come back in times when no one thought it would. This time around, important people in the industry are attempting to come up with remedies that would “allow newspapers to profit in a digital age” (Rose.) One suggestion came from Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He believes a possible option would be to pay for magazines and newspapers how you pay for online music like iTunes: if “people had sort of like an EZ Pass or an iTunes card, where if you wanted a magazine that week, you could pay a quarter and it would just come out of your account,” profits might increase.
Whatever the future holds for this institution industry, you can be sure that reporters, like Amy Alexander, will never stop fulfilling their journalistic duties of informing the public.