On a happier note

David Carr on the Austin Chronicle, and why it is holding its own in these difficult times:

Part of the reason may have to do with price (free) but there is something else afoot. The Chronicle is knit into civic and cultural life in Austin to a degree that may make other newspapers nervous. While other regional news outlets do house ads and commercials about their connection to the community, The Chronicle started the South by Southwest conference, its founders have helped finance local filmmakers, and when you step off the airplane and see a huge bookstore branded with The Chronicle’s name, it’s clear that the weekly plays big for its size.

Louis Black, The Chronicle’s editor and founder — along with Nick Barbaro, the paper’s publisher — does not want to tempt the angry media gods. A very conservative person in some regards, he points out that the business has lived on cash flow since the outset and never has taken on any significant debt or partners. They own The Chronicle’s building and the building where the festival is set up.

The festival was founded by Mr. Barbaro and Mr. Black, along with their friend Roland Swenson, back in 1987, which, come to think of it, is just about the time that the newspaper took off as well. After taking a big hit from Craigslist — “let’s just say that the unlicensed massage category suffered significantly,” Mr. Black said — the newspaper has been stable and healthy.

It’s best not to generalize too much about a newspaper that covers a city whose unofficial battle cry is “Keep Austin Weird,” but there is a palpable connection to The Chronicle here. Many people will also point out that Austin is a notoriously liberal, literate place, but that hasn’t done a lot for The Austin American-Statesman, which, like so many other daily papers, is in decline and up for sale.

“They are a big part of the story here and always have been,” said Frank Hendrix, who owns Emo’s, a club here, and was overseeing three stages during the festival.