SEE DIFFERENTLY WITH `PRIVATE EYE'

Published: Monday, May 24 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Next week the Private Eye will mark its ninth anniversary, but it has been only a year or two since the hip "alternative newsweekly" began to make a real splash in our community. Today, as the Private Eye Weekly, it grabs you by the collar, gets up in your face and shouts in your ear.

Private Eye Weekly is one of a new genre of alternative newsweeklies sprouting up across the country. It has some of the earmarks of the counterculture press of a generation ago. But its investigative journalism would be the envy of many mainline dailies. A lot of the difference is in format, because it is a tabloid with the big cover headlines and brash graphics that the term implies, and a lot is in the heavy emphasis on nightlife in the back pages.Its bright and penetrating cover stories have given it a cachet and made it talked about. Not the least of these was Lynn Packer's series early this year that pulled no punches on the Bonneville Pacific scandal and Mayor Deedee Corridini's links to the company.

- PRIVATE EYE'S MODEL is the Chicago Reader. The Chicago paper developed the format of a long front-page feature, criticism and arts/entertainment calendars. John Saltas found it fun to watch in a period of rapid growth. Saltas, a 39-year-old University of Utah journalism graduate, was working in Chicago as associate editor of a large country music magazine, Country Style. When it folded in 1984 he came home to test the Chicago Reader ideas. He began to learn the business by the seat of the pants and without the benefit of market surveys.

Saltas' target reader was young, active and had some discretionary income. In addition to finding a logical group of readers, any publication has to have advertisers who want to reach that group and a way to distribute the publication that won't break the bank.

So Saltas started circulating the magazine, then a monthly, free at private clubs. Although about 500 copies go into the mail and you can subscribe, the vast bulk of the circulation is, like that of most alternative weeklies, still free, now 30,000 copies a week. The paper still can be picked up in private clubs but also in restaurants and other public places, altogether about 700 outlets. A big bundle is delivered every Wednesday to the foyer of our building at the U., where I get my copy. The circulation is independently audited, and shows, Saltas says, that only 3 percent of the copies are not picked up.

Salt Lake City may have been ripe for more investigative journalism, as he contends, but it wasn't until December 1988, when private clubs were allowed to advertise, that the paper went biweekly and began to soar. Private club ads still make up a large part of the ad support. There is a regular dining-out column, movie and record reviews, and some quirky matter like an astrology column.

- LIKE MOST ALTERNATIVE weeklies, it has found that one key to success is carrying columns of "personal and private" romance ads. But it cautions readers that it will not accept material that is "sexually explicit or implicit, so don't try" and urges readers to be prudent in dating.

It now has a dining issue and spring fashion issue, and, following the lead of Utah Holiday's "Best and Worst" issue, a "Best of Utah" number.

The paper became a weekly a year ago. The term WEEKLY, in capital letters, now dwarfs the term Private Eye on the masthead, to set it aside from the barrage of free monthlies now being published here (Media Monitor, May 17) and to convey the idea of newsiness. Last year it moved from Midvale to an office at street level in the Shubrick building at 400 South and West Temple. The move gave the paper "street presence and downtown presence," Saltas says, and allows, for one thing, people to stroll in to buy ads.

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