An alternative newsweekly is a city-centric magpaper that focuses on local and national news, and provides additional, less traditional, coverage than the average daily newspaper.
Alternative newsweeklies are usually released weekly and free to the public. (They subsist on add revenue.)
Here’s some copy I lifted from the Wikipedia article because I am clearly a busy woman (and it seems, when my mom knows about something, I’m lazier):
Alternative papers usually operate under a different business model than daily papers. Most alternative papers, such as the Houston Press, the Los Angeles Free Press, the Village Voice, the New York Press and the Long Island Press are free, earning revenue through the sale of advertising space. They also often include ads for adult entertainment, such as adult bookstores and strip clubs, which are prohibited in many mainstream daily newspapers. They usually include comprehensive classified and personal ad sections and event listings as well.Newsweeklies provide many of the same services as a daily newspaper. In addition to local and national news, plus a deep devotion to the code of journalism ethics (I’ll argue a deeper devotion, personally), you can get your sudoku and crossword puzzle fix.
Many alternative papers feature an annual "best of" issue, profiling businesses that readers voted the best of their type in the area. Often these papers send out certificates that the businesses hang on their wall or window. This further cements the paper's ties to local businesses.
Alternative newspapers represent the more commercialized and mainstream evolution of the underground press associated with the 1960s counterculture. Their focus remains on arts and entertainment and social and political reportage. Editorial positions at alternative weeklies are predominantly left-leaning, though there is a small contingent of strongly conservative and/or libertarian alt-weeklies. Their styles vary sharply; some affect a satirical, ironic tone, while others embrace a more straightforward approach to reporting.
Newsweeklies also syndicate columns in the same way Ann Landers might be found in city dailies nationwide. Except, instead, newsweeklies syndicate racier comics and columns such as The Straight Dope (it’s a weekly column much like this blog, but more reverent), Savage Love.
To the detriment of journalism education, the only newsweekly in the Newseum is New York City’s Village Voice (which is perhaps the best known example). A copy of the Voice is the Newseum’s history hall and mentions newsweeklies in passing as the rebellious, pot smoking, little brother of Real Journalism. (Bite me, Newseum.)
Many newsweeklies are owned independently. In recent years however, newsweeklies have been purchased in much the same way as daily newspapers. The Tribune Company, which owns the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune (among others) previously owns altweeklies Hartford Advocate, New Haven Advocate, Valley Advocate, and Fairfield County Weekly. Village Voice media owns fourteen publications, and Creative Loafing, which has been languishing in bankruptcy court, owns four, including Washington City Paper and Chicago Reader.
*Disclosure note, I freelance for Baltimore’s newsweekly, City Paper, and happily worked as an intern and research assistant.