Editor’s note: Rick Smith is a former contributor to Spectator, writes for Metro Magazine, and worked for seven years as a senior editor at The News & Observer.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — The Spectator didn’t die this week. For what it’s worth, the weekly, which was among the first in the world to embrace the Internet for global reach, died years ago.

The final officialissue of Spectator Magazine hit newsstands Wednesday. That’s too bad for Triangle area readers who are losing another source for news other than The News & Observer and The Herald Sun. The Independent bought out Spectator’s Atlanta owners (Creative Loafing) which had owned the 24-year-old publication all of four years.

The bottom line, though, is that one of the first publications around to embrace the Internet as a publishing medium and then moved to the Web hasn’t been the same for a long time. The Spectator wrote about Red Hat, Red Storm Entertainment, Interactive Magic and many other tech firms long before the major media got caught up in the late-90s hype.

While the newsweekly did make several forays into Web publishing, tech coverage largely disappeared. But more importantly, its editorial focus changed until — to many traditional readers — the entire paper was out of focus.

As far as many Spectator fans and former readers are concerned, Spectator began to die shortly after Creative Loafing took over and former owner Bernie Reeves headed off to found Metro Magazine.

Spectator became afflicted with a disease called “copycat-it is”.

For years, the Independent and Spectator were fierce competitors. While Reeves often touted a conservative Democrat view and mixed in plenty of liberal views, the Independent started farther left than Walter Mondale — and stayed there.

But when Reeves departed shortly after the Atlanta crew took over, Spectator began to morph into, you guessed it, the Independent.

Both went after the same readers, the same advertisers, and over time the same kind of writers.

Cloning in the Triangle

When the decision was made to fold Spectator, there wasn’t a dime’s bit of difference between the two, except for Spectator’s vaunted calendar.

Now don’t get me wrong. This has nothing to do with personalities. For example, I like Spectator columnist Todd Morman, even if I don’t agree with him politically. But long gone were the days of the often outrageous “Mr. Spectator” which skewered both sides of the political aisle and, later, when Spectator offered up John Hood of the John Locke Foundation as an alternative.

The Spectator tried to out-liberal the Independent, and no one is going to do that. Ever.

Like the Independent or not, the newspaper has forever remained true to its liberal, crusading philosophy. Some of its reporting over the years, especially on issues such as the death penalty, political buffoonery, and racism has been outstanding. (The hire of Hal Crowther away from Spectator long ago was a smart move, too. And film critic Godfrey Cheshire bolted to Durham too, soon after new ownership took over.)

What the Triangle lost in this attack of the clones was an alternative voice to the Independent.

Reeves will probably let me have it for ever associating Spectator and “alternative” in the same sentence. He never considered The Spectator to be part of the so-called alteranative press. But I use the term respectfully. The Spectator did offer choice.

So while this week marks the end of a long run for the Spectator, many of us had written “RIP” on an old issue long before the final cover appeared Wednesday, proudly adorned “LAST ISSUE” in the top right corner.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire. Feedback is welcome. Send to rsmith8@nc.rr.com.


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