In the 1960s discontented writers around the country, and around Indianapolis, went into the publishing business. They started so-called underground newspapers, which often more closely resembled pamphlets, frequently to protest the Vietnam War and the actions of the Nixon administration. These papers were scantily financed projects, sometimes operating out of the publisher’s kitchen. The writers had day jobs, and in many cases, they wrote for free. Most such papers published weekly, though some came out monthly and others were issued irregularly. The underground papers fed off the antiwar movement; Indianapolis, where the antiwar movement was smaller than in some parts of the country, thus had a comparatively small underground press.

When the war ended, the undergrounds survived as “alternative” newspapers. Publishers of alternatives still give their papers away but in the 21st century, they aggressively pursue advertising dollars. They have become viable businesses, replete with a corps of advertising sales representatives and bookkeepers. Still, alternative journalism is more free-flowing, and more subjective, than mainstream newspapers. Although devoting considerable attention to entertainment-related stories, alternatives continue to practice highly interpretive journalism and promote controversial social causes.

There are no official records of the comings and goings of Indianapolis’ roughly 20 alternatives. The first paper seems to have been An Indiana Liberal, which came and went in 1966. It was the first of many alternatives Ron Halderman published. The following year Haldeman was at the helm of The Participant, which billed itself as “an Indiana Subterranean Journal of Change.” The largest of the city’s underground papers of the 1960s was the Indianapolis Free Press (1966-1970). Its circulation reached 75,000. Once, the Free Press drew the ire of some Indianapolis residents by publishing a cartoon that depicted President and Mrs. Nixon naked. Police tried to halt distribution, but the Indiana Civil Liberties Union interceded and the paper went out. Later, Haldeman merged his Participant with the Free Press, and the papers died together. Soon Haldeman was back, this time with Expecting Rain (from a Bob Dylan lyric). Among the more noteworthy things Expecting Rain did was to publish poems by local poet Jared Carter, who later won the prestigious Walt Whitman Award.

The trend toward entertainment news can be traced to the launch of Second City, in 1974. The work of Kim Huegel and Tom Harper, Second City soon became political, sending a reporter to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, to do a story on the aftermath of the Indian uprising. The paper folded within months. The next year M. William Lutholtz’s City Lights started, determined to restrict itself to entertainment. David Letterman, then a recent Ball State graduate, was a contributor. The paper lasted for 17 issues. There was a pause in the action until monthly Radio Free Rock came along, in the late 1970s. It was exclusively entertainment-oriented, noteworthy for its introduction of the column “Kiwi Tracks.” Written by Allen Deck, “Tracks” was a long, yet entertaining gossip column that concentrated on the local entertainment scene. After Radio Free Rock folded, Deck took “Tracks” to Terry Lowe’s Hot Potato, a new monthly entertainment paper. In 1983, under the leadership of Mike Jacque Griffin, Hot Potato merged with Express to form The Alternative, which lasted until June 1984.

Indianapolis’ longest-running alternative is The New Times, published by Stephen Sylvester. It started as Steppin’ Out, in May 1984, and was heavy on entertainment. In 1987 it began to emphasize news. The New Times gained national acclaim in 1988 when it published vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s law school grades. The grades had been a closely guarded secret until The New Times tapped into Indiana University’s computer and obtained the Information. Nuvo, the latest entry into Indianapolis’ alternative newspaper scene, was launched in March 1990. Nuvo’s print edition ceased publication in March 2019 but continues in a digital format. It is known for its investigative reporting on such topics as police brutality.

*Note: This entry is from the original print edition of the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (1994). We are currently seeking an individual with knowledge of this topic to update this entry.

Revised January 1994

Help improve this entry

Contribute information, offer corrections, suggest images.

You can also recommend new entries related to this topic.