Elections for several positions on the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ board of directors will be held on Saturday, June 17, during the association’s annual meeting in Little Rock. Six of the nine candidates, including four incumbents, are thus far unopposed. The remaining three candidates are vying for two at-large seats. However, AAN bylaws do not require individuals to declare their intention to run in advance: Any regular members who are interested in seeking a seat on the board can be nominated from the floor at the annual meeting.
One of the open seats listed below is prospective. At its fall meeting, the board of directors voted unanimously to amend the bylaws and establish a design and production chair. If the amendment is approved by the membership at the annual meeting, then an election will be held for that seat.
The open seats and candidates:
Sioux Watson, publisher, Independent Weekly, incumbent
Rob Jiranek, publisher, C-Ville Weekly, incumbent
Mike Lenehan, executive editor, Chicago Reader, incumbent
Jim Rizzi, publisher, Salt Lake City Weekly, incumbent
Erin Sullivan, managing editor, Baltimore City Paper
(The incumbent chair, Paula Routly, is not running for re-election.)
Design and Production
Ellen Meany, creative director, Isthmus
(There is no incumbent because this seat is new and dependent upon approval of an amendment to the bylaws.)
Bill Bleakley, publisher, Oklahoma Gazette, incumbent
Mark Bartel, publisher, City Pages (Twin Cities)
Donna Ladd, editor in chief, Jackson Free Press
(Incumbent Bingo Barnes is not running for re-election.)
To acquaint AAN members with the candidates and their goals, AAN News asked each of them two questions. Responses are below.
1. Why do you want to be on the AAN board?
2. What are the most important issues that AAN faces?
Publisher, Independent Weekly
1. Since I joined the board I have been keenly interested in making sure we have good representation from across the spectrum of our member papers — large and small. I will continue to encourage people from smaller papers and the independents to run for board seats, and to encourage women to step up to these leadership roles. Lately I have been reaching out to some younger people to get involved. The board initiated a new mentorship program this year, matching new and applying members with seasoned veterans as a way to jumpstart conversations about running their business of publishing alternative weeklies. I would like to continue assisting with this new member and future member service.
2. An important issue facing the Association is keeping all of our member papers involved and participatory. It is becoming harder to keep long timers engaged and interested — one thing that seems to work is controversy. I will work hard to stir up controversy and continue to have meet and greet ice breaker parties in my hotel suite with free alcohol (and non-alcoholic beverages as well).
Publisher, C-Ville Weekly
1. As AAN Board Treasurer, I want to continue to share my energy and ideas with a dynamic peer group. My service aim is to support members and prepare our industry for the future; my professional aim is to develop friendships with other committed professionals and work for where we need to be.
I bring the following skills to the task: 1) Solid Industry View: 20 years experience in publishing and publishing management; 2) Everyman Representation: owner/publisher of a small-market weekly; 3) Finance and Marketing Expertise: 1991 MBA graduate from Kellogg-Medill/Northwestern with concentrations in marketing, media and finance; 4) Commitment: where the printed word came from and where it’s going is my passion.
2. a) Addressing a changing readership: Daily newspaper publishers wince when they read their newspaper’s obituaries. Another reader bites the dust. AAN, what about us? Alt-weeklies need to keep their youthful edge over other print competitors, yet our editorial departments gracefully age. What’s today’s best mix of editorial entry points?
b) Maintaining and building journalistic authority: When’s the last time you saw an AAN editor/writer invited to an issue panel in a local market? What will help attract the most promising grads of journalism school to join AAN newspapers? How can AAN weeklies keep their edge but lock in respect for “must read” information on a broad spectrum of topics?
c) Perpetuating a return on investment for members: AAN members need satisfaction for their time and investment. On the most practical level, that means AAN must help small- to mid-size businesses become better managed, more competitive and prepared to meet the challenges of the future. AAN must provide innovative education, programming, connectivity and foresight.
Executive Editor, Chicago Reader
1. I want to continue on the board to (1) keep an eye on the rest of them, and (2) make sure AAN continues with its diversity initiatives. The color of AAN staffs, especially editorial staffs, is one of our industry’s greatest embarrassments and most difficult challenges. Much to its credit, AAN spends a large chunk of its annual budget on two programs that address the problem, namely the Academy for Alternative Journalism and the AAN Diversity Internships. Over the last several years, as we have learned and tweaked and tinkered, we have developed these to the point that they are producing a fair number of success stories — though of course they do not come close to “solving” the problem. As AAN’s budget comes under pressure I want to be sure that we continue with the programs we have started and seek new ways to address this important issue.
2. The industry is in big trouble, particularly in the major markets, where competition is strongest. And make no mistake about it — where the major markets go, the smaller markets will follow, on the way down just as they did on the way up. As our trade group, AAN has a major role to play as we search for new ways to do business. My main interest is research and development: as a group we should be investigating our audience and the best ways to reach them. The original alt-weekly recipe, mixing committed journalism and politics with cultural coverage and service, is being broken apart by new media. There may be a new recipe, but I doubt we will find it without knowledge that we do not now possess.
The association itself may also be in trouble: its main source of revenue, the AAN-CAN classified ads network, also faces unprecedented competition, and it relies on the troubled major-market papers for the bulk of its salable circulation. As all organizations do, AAN will seek first to perpetuate itself. When push comes to shove, I think the organization needs to be reminded that it is good for nothing if its member papers are going out of business. The needs of the members should supercede the survival instincts of the association.
Publisher, Salt Lake City Weekly
1. This is an exciting time for alternative newsweeklies. Technology is changing our work environment, the political climate keeps us on our toes, and the public’s need for what we offer continues to grow. We look to AAN for innovative solutions — not only to solve day-to-day problems, but for vision and direction for the long term. I believe passionately in the mission, philosophy and approach of AAN. I value collaborating with board members to represent perspectives from papers large and small. I embrace the responsibilities of board service. I have built a 25-year career in this industry and want to give something back by continuing my board service.
2. The AAN board is tackling challenges common to us all. Key among them is how we remain relevant to our regular readers while attracting new readers. One way to attract new readers is to harness our presence on the Internet. But to have a commanding presence, our online operations need to be profitable. Another issue we face is our ability to stay competitive in the ever-changing classified marketplace. And finally — since our talented, creative and skilled employees put the wind in our sails — AAN needs to continue offering the most vital, relevant and bleeding-edge educational and professional development programs imaginable.
Managing Editor, Baltimore City Paper
1. I recognize that AAN’s strength is in its member papers. Without strong member papers, we won’t have a strong organization.
As a participant in the membership committee over the past several years, I’ve learned to identify the sometimes subtle elements that determine whether a paper is just an OK paper skating by on the claim of being an “alternative” to a mainstream daily or a paper that is really committed to providing quality content that challenges its readers’ sensibilities.
I would like to help the board strengthen AAN’s identity as an organization of newspapers committed to providing consistent and compelling narrative content; developing strong relationships and identities in the communities they serve; and by being unafraid to do what our papers have always done best — give voice to the voiceless.
The best way for me to do that is to lead the membership committee and help it maintain — if not strengthen — the organization’s commitment to quality journalism.
2. a) I think the evolving landscape of media ownership is the most important issue the organization is facing right now. Over the past several years, the membership committee has had to struggle with issues of ownership and how they impact content in applying papers — I can only imagine that this will become an even larger issue in the coming years as more daily-owned alts appear in our cities and media companies merge and consolidate.
b) I think the organization needs to help its members find new ways of defining their identities — both in print and online — so they can remain relevant in this age of information overload. Craigslist, local blogs, faux alts, daily papers’ forays into edgier territory — our papers need to be fluid and innovative to keep up with the media entities creeping into our perceived territory.
c) Diversity. This has been an ongoing issue that I know AAN has been struggling with for as long as I can remember, and it’s one I think we need to keep at the forefront.
Design and Production Chair
Creative Director, Isthmus
1.We formed the Design & Production Committee for AAN in September 2004. At the time, I said, “I hope this committee will raise the profile of art, design and production in the view of all AAN members.”
Elevating D&P to board status will spur this initiative, especially with the need to foster integration and collaboration between departments as we all sail forward in a multimedia world. We are all content generators, and art — in edit and ads — is fundamental content.
Training and inspiration — in regional workshops and national conferences, and with online resources and communication tools — is a vital component that AAN offers and can enhance.
As design committee chair, I would be honored to represent the interests of design and production on the AAN board.
2. Helping our member papers to rise above the media clutter is important. We all need to be essential in the lives of our communities, and reach out and converse with more and more people in print and online. We need to continue to assert our legitimacy as journalism organizations, in the face of mounting negativity, brought on by major-media gaffes. We need to continue to effectively evolve in the new-media landscape.
Publisher, Oklahoma Gazette
1. When I first ran for the Board of Directors two years ago, I wanted to use my knowledge and experience to help build on the successes achieved by Executive Director Richard Karpel and his staff. I believe I have made a contribution to the organization in that regard using my perspectives as a publisher of a large independent alternative newspaper in a conservative market. Through collaboration with other board members and the staff, we have taken many initiatives to create additional value to being a member of AAN.
2. Most of our challenges are external. A rapidly changing media environment and multifaceted competition from large media entities with vastly greater resources than our companies challenge our ability to thrive and survive. Our board has become proactive in seeking greater understanding of these competitors and seeking ways in which to make AAN more relevant as a resource in responding to them. In addition, we must learn how to create internal efficiencies and enhance our expertise so that the alternative press can enjoy positive growth within the otherwise stagnant newspaper industry.
Publisher, City Pages (Twin Cities)
1. I served on the AAN board from 2000-2004 as Treasurer. It was a pleasure then to observe at close range the extraordinary growth of the AAN coffers resulting from AAN CAN and the great work of Roxanne Cooper, the AAN staff, and others like Robbie Robbins and the classified directors around AAN. I am currently on the Retail Advertising Committee and the Marketing Committee. Working behind the scenes for a while now it is clear AAN, more than ever, needs people on the board dedicated to planning for the future. My focus working on the board will be helping members evolve as local media companies, not just newspapers. I feel like I have the energy and experience to push that agenda.
2. We all know the answer here. AAN members must remain relevent to a rapidly evolving readership so that we can effectively fight for market share and sell a lot of advertising. As I mentioned before, this requires our members to become not just newspapers, but event promoters, sponsorship sellers, publishers of special supplements, and internet companies. AAN has taken significant steps helping members move in these directions already, but we’ll have to move much faster as an organization if we really expect to kick ass into the future.
Editor in Chief, Jackson Free Press
1. After starting an alt in what might seem to be the most unlikely market, and then leading it to success in four short years, I believe I am ready to step up and get involved in the alt industry in a more hands-on and visionary way. I have learned many lessons doing the JFP in a conservative market with a Gannett daily, and we have been creative and cutting-edge in our solutions. The JFP has drawn the best from the traditional AAN model, we believe, and then added innovative elements to create a popular newsweekly and Web site/blog that is giving the competition fits here. And both our print and our Web products draw age and race diversity (58 percent black readers in print) in ways I believed would be possible despite the naysayers, using my instincts developed both as a native Mississippian and then working in the New York media market and in a conservative Colorado market. I believe I have fresh ideas, a certain energy and, well, sassiness to help challenge our members to think outside the box, both in print and online. I also want to represent smaller newspapers such as ours in the organization with our own special needs and concerns. I want to bring feedback and lessons I’ve learned from our very diverse and active readership to the table, while I, my paper and my state benefit, in turn, from the expertise and experience of the other board members.
In short, my strengths are helping develop progressive Web paradigms, diverse readers and strategies to counter the Goliaths that want to stomp us out.
2. Keeping up with and developing our changing readership is probably our biggest concern — in order to both stay competitive and to meet the most basic goals of alternative, progressive media — that is, to not lose our soul while under fire. Of course, changing readership is all the other media’s problem as well, but I believe we are in the position to lead, rather than follow or get left behind because we are not approaching the evolving media climate with open minds and creativity. We are faced with varied competitive tactics, trying to attack our strengths — from faux alts (we have a very bad one) to Gannett’s distribution strategies (TDN, grrr) to the dailies’ attempts to “sound young” and present content more like ours to appeal to younger readers (they’re failing, thankfully).
I believe strongly that we can face these challenges if we are not overly afraid of them (such as with the JFP’s rather ballsy campaign to “fight Goliath” and their TDN scheme) and if we are willing to really respond to our readers’ needs (such as with our approach to our Web site and blogging with complete interactivity and community-building from the time of our launch). I also think we need a renewed push to continually expand the diversity of our publications and to even help shape (or illuminate) alt readership/consumer groups that have been overlooked by much of the media in many of our markets (such as our strong readership of black young influentials, who weren’t recognized as such before the JFP). Again, I’d like to actively help develop toolkits to help reader (and staff) diversity, fight Goliath tactics such as TDN, and help our members be leaders online rather than reactionaries. I hope you give me the chance.