Competition from faux alts oriented toward youth, the threat posed by Internet-based classified ad services and other burning issues have spurred a higher-than-usual interest in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies board of directors race this year.
Eight candidates are vying for three at-large seats on the board, and two are competing for the position of marketing chair. At least so far, incumbents are running unopposed for the positions of admissions chair, diversity chair and secretary. One newcomer is running unopposed for treasurer.
The field could grow even larger because anyone can be nominated from the floor at the annual meeting.
Below, a summary of open seats and candidates is followed by a voter’s guide.
Kenneth Neill, publisher, The Memphis Flyer, incumbent
(At the annual meeting, the Organization and Bylaws Committee plans to recommend a bylaw amendment that would restructure the duties of the Admissions Committee; if that amendment is approved, the committee would be renamed the Membership Committee and this seat will become the Membership Chair.)
At-Large (three seats)
Penelope Huston Baer, classified manager, The Santa Barbara Independent, incumbent
Bingo Barnes, owner/editor-in-chief, Boise Weekly
Bill Bleakley, publisher, Oklahoma Gazette
Jimmy Boegle, editor, Tucson Weekly
Cecil Bothwell, staff reporter, Mountain Xpress
Stephen Leon, editor and publisher, Metroland
Paula Routly, co-publisher and co-editor, Seven Days, incumbent
Jeremy Zachary, calendar manager, OC Weekly
(At-large incumbent Matt Gibson, publisher of the Missoula Independent, decided not to run again.)
Mike Lenehan, executive editor, Chicago Reader, incumbent
(A Diversity Chair will be selected only if AAN members at the annual meeting approve a bylaw amendment making the chair a permanent seat.)
Jim Rizzi, publisher, Salt Lake City Weekly
Nancy Stuski, publisher, PW-Philadelphia Weekly
(Incumbent Paul Curci, publisher of Philadelphia City Paper, decided not to run again.)
Sioux Watson, publisher, Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.), incumbent
Rob Jiranek, publisher, C-Ville Weekly
(Incumbent Mark Bartel, publisher of City Pages [Twin Cities], decided not to run again.)
To acquaint AAN members with the candidates and their goals, AAN News asked each of them two questions. Responses are below.
1. The primary responsibilities of the AAN Board are to provide oversight and establish policy for the organization, and to fairly represent the interests of all AAN members. Keeping that in mind, why do you want to serve on the board, and what skills do you bring to the task?
2. What do you think are the most important issues facing AAN right now?
Publisher, The Memphis Flyer
1. These are interesting times in the journalism business and especially interesting times for AAN newspapers as we try to define and re-define exactly what it is we are. The board has taken major strides recently, coming to grips with changes that have rendered several of our bylaw provisions obsolete. As Admissions Chair these past two years, I have been very involved with this process, as we are in fact in the process of becoming a full-blown Membership Committee; I’m running for the board again to help shepherd our committee through that transition. We have a talented, extremely hard-working group, and I think we perform the thankless, complicated task of vetting new applicants very professionally. As the founding publisher of a 15-year-old independent weekly in Memphis, Tenn., I feel non-partisanship and an open mind are the two strengths I bring to the dance in this regard. Plus I pick up a lot of bar tabs.
2. I’d say there are three: 1) How do we maintain our positions as independent voices of sanity (sometimes) and reason in our communities, in the face of continuing pressures for media consolidation? 2) How do we as an industry face up to the economic challenges just up ahead, challenges that will require us to find viable online revenue streams in order to remain both solvent and editorially relevant? and 3) How do we as an industry handle “succession” with our papers, both internally and externally, so that we can groom an effective “new generation” of staffers, owners and readers, thereby preserving the relevance of our newspapers?
Penelope Huston Baer
Penelope Huston Baer
Classified manager, The Santa Barbara Independent
1. My situation is unusual: I am not running for a second term; I am asking to be officially elected to serve the second half of a term I was appointed to after another board member stepped down. I want to serve on the board because I love this industry, which I have worked in for 14 years at two very different AAN papers: The Memphis Flyer and The Santa Barbara Independent. I have served on committees and as a presenter and moderator at AAN conventions for the past 10 years. Also, my current job — managing both the Web site and classified advertising — allows me to bring a diverse voice to the position. I understand the importance of classified business as a revenue stream for the association and our papers individually and am aware of the potential erosion of that revenue stream by Web products.
2. I think the single most pressing issue for AAN is also the oldest one — competition. Ten years ago, most of us were concerned with competing with traditional dailies. Now we must find ways to separate ourselves from the faux-alts and new daily products that are popping up in every market with greater and greater frequency. And we have to keep pace with the juggernaut that is the Internet: blogs, Web journals and bulletin-board sites like Craig’s List are crowding the landscape. Our competition is trying to capture our readers by providing a similar format or formula, and we are challenged with finding a way to maintain our clear and distinct voices. After all, we pioneered this territory. We need to find ways to attract — or continue to attract — the brightest editorial and design talent. I think we are developing ways for distinguishing ourselves from the wannabe alt-weeklies (through the Roper study on influential consumers, new marketing, etc.), but it will continue to be a challenge.
Current owner/editor-in chief, Boise Weekly
Former creative director, Las Vegas Weekly
Former art director, Dallas Observer
1. I wish to serve on the AAN board because I believe that my experience as an owner/operator of a small newspaper would benefit the alternative newspaper community by representing the voice of the smaller newspaper. My experience, however, is much broader than a small town paper as I have seen the alt business from many perspectives. As a cog in the wheel within the New Times chain, as a creative director for an outsider alt-publication with the desire to become an AAN member but kept from doing so due to AAN rules regarding ownership, and as an owner of a small independent publication, I feel I have a greater understanding of not only the needs of small publications but large ones as well. Finally, my previous experience as an art director from within the alternative world may be just the thing needed to represent the design community for an at-large seat.
2. The newspaper industry is going through major changes. The encroachment by mega-media into traditional alternative territory we have experienced first-hand in Boise for almost two years with one of Gannett’s first forays into weekly youth-oriented publications. AAN’s support for publishers, from legal advice to the sharing of knowledge between large and small publishers, needs to continue. AAN should continue to look into issues that can assist and aid large and small publishers such as resource-sharing of articles, group purchasing power and capitalizing upon the changing media environment as the world moves from newspaper publishing to the Internet.
Publisher, Oklahoma Gazette
1. Serving on the board would provide me with the opportunity to give back to the association in appreciation for all the benefits the Oklahoma Gazette has received during its 20 years of membership. As publisher the Oklahoma Gazette for 25 years, I could use my experience and knowledge to help build on the successes achieved by Executive Director Richard Karpel and his staff. Since the Oklahoma Gazette is independent, I would be able to fairly represent the interests of all the association’s members without conflicts arising from other relationships. The skills I have developed in defending the Oklahoma Gazette from reactionary forces can be used to help the association serve the alternative press.
2. The alternative press is challenged from many directions. Competitive media, which are expanding and diversifying, threaten to take greater market share from association members. Readership is drawn away by a multitude of demands for readers’ discretionary time. The AAN board must assist its membership in developing the tools not only to maintain readership but to sustain the quality of journalism historically achieved by the alternative press. The association must continue to marshal resources to strengthen its members’ professionalism and efficiencies since the challenges ahead are likely to be more competitive and threatening.
Editor, Tucson Weekly
1. I’ve been working in/with alt-weeklies for eight years now. I was an intern, reporter, regular contributor, news editor and editor at the Reno News & Review, an AAN member, and I was news editor at Las Vegas CityLife, a nonmember. Since January 2003, I’ve been editor at the Tucson Weekly. I have a good handle on what it’s like to be an alt-weekly editorial staffer in a variety of circumstances. I have also been on the AAN Bylaws Committee for the last year. Although I am fairly young (29 years old), I know this business.
AAN is a wonderful organization but has several weaknesses. One, the AAN leadership is getting increasingly, well, old. And two, the leadership — with some exceptions — has done little to get young and new AAN paper staffers involved in the organization. New staffers, particularly the younger ones, should be made to feel welcome. Young blood and new ideas are good things. Cliques are not. This is something I am volunteering to work on, regardless of whether I am elected to the board.
2. In addition to the lack of young/new involvement in AAN discussed above, the biggest issue facing AAN is the changing nature of the alt-weekly business, and how we, as an organization and as individual papers, need to adapt. Faux alts owned by dailies, chain ownership, consolidation, “bad” companies (owning alt-weeklies) — these are all realities of the business today. The very nature of what an “alternative” newsweekly is – this is being challenged every day. I know this issue well — in Reno, I had to deal with Gannett and its high jinks. In Las Vegas, CityLife had to contend with two competitors owned by local dailies.
Staff reporter, Mountain Xpress (Asheville, N.C.)
1. Alternative weeklies are a logical focal point of the re-localization of our society in the post neo-con, post-petroleum era. The U.S. treasury has just experienced the largest-scale looting in world history, a robbery collaterally designed to collapse federal social programs. At the same time, globalization will soon stall as we pass peak oil production. Only increasingly self-reliant communities have any chance of successfully weathering the change. We can be the voice of that future.
I am a book publisher, a former managing editor of Mountain Xpress and Heartstone (an environmental journal), a member of the AAN committee that created AltWeeklies.com, a syndicated columnist and an instigator/organizer of the group that brought Jim Hightower’s Rolling Thunder tour to Asheville. I am a doer and I will bring that energy to the AAN board.
2. We continue to confront competition from big media which use their economic clout to undersell our advertising rates to drive indies out of business. Our only defense is excellence. Our greatest strengths as an industry group are training (Medill, AAN East, AAN West, etc.), modeling, shared strategies and shared content (as in the recent publication of Jason Vest’s Iraq report). When the multinational economic model comes unstitched, we can still be standing.
Editor and publisher, Metroland
1. Having now worked at an AAN paper for 17 years, and having been editor/publisher/part owner for nine of those years, I now feel I have considerable experience and have something valuable to contribute to the AAN board. I have attended a dozen or so AAN conferences, have gotten to know many of my colleagues around the country and have learned as much from them as I have from the speakers/seminars. I also feel that the organization has worked very hard and well to support the interests of its many and varied papers, and has done a great job of keeping us a close-knit professional community. I feel I am ready to give something back and be a part of that process.
2. I think the single most important issue facing AAN — and one we are addressing as we speak, from a bylaws standpoint — is how to deal with the evolving nature and ownership of our member papers, acknowledging the inevitability of consolidation without diluting our editorial quality or integrity. Closely related is the issue of maintaining a balance in catering to the needs of large and/or chain papers vs. small and/or independent — especially making sure that smaller, independent papers and potential new members continue to feel strongly that AAN is a valuable place for them to be.
Another important issue (also being addressed) is our need to remain competitive in the ever-changing sales marketplace and capitalize on our strengths. As the owner of a smaller-market paper, I understand well the frustrations of selling against false perceptions and struggling to break categories we should be strong in. AAN has done good work marketing its members in the past and should continue to look for creative ways to help papers market themselves, especially the small-market papers.
Co-publisher and co-editor, Seven Days
1. The AAN board is full of great, knowledgeable people who bring real expertise to the table. But only one or two of us has had the experience of co-founding, publishing and editing the newspaper they represent. As a co-owner in a very small market, I am — or have been — involved in every aspect of the business, from start-up to editorial and financial standards. I use my independent voice on the board to speak for those members who can’t afford — or simply don’t have time — to help set the AAN agenda or to prioritize goals within the organization. I have lobbied for more humane treatment of applying papers, regional sales trainings for display reps, and better communication between the board and member papers. I participated in the long-range planning exercise in 1999 and have served on the admissions committee for four years.
2. AAN’s greatest challenge is to stay relevant and helpful to a membership that ranges from chain-paper publishers in huge markets to struggling small-market independents that find our conventions cost-prohibitive. While it struggles to satisfy those two groups with programming and resource allocation, the organization needs to stay focused on greater threats to our collective mission — not just from outside sources, like Gannett and Craig’s List, but also internal problems: improving newsroom diversity, maintaining editorial excellence and keeping AAN events accessible. Currently, membership dues are based on a paper’s annual revenue. I think the organization should implement a similar sliding-scale payment schedule for all AAN events.
Calendar manager, OC Weekly
1. I aspire to bring knowledge, enthusiasm and tenacity to the position of at-large board member. As an OC Weekly employee (calendar manager) since 1996 and advertising aficionado since 1993, I bring a wealth of sales and marketing knowledge that I would love to share with others in a constructive and motivating fashion.
2. I believe online competition for print media and DIY (Do It Yourself) attitude are two serious issues facing AAN today. Online advertising is at its all time high with 2.3 billion dollars in spending for the first quarter alone this year. To deliver media in a timely fashion and maximize alternative revenue streams, alt-weeklies must achieve online integration. AAN’s creation Altweeklies.com is a brilliant example of online utilization and the reinforcement that AAN is willing and able to provide useful tools to papers both large and small. DIY attitude is making self-reliance more important than shared alliance as the Internet expands and information is readily available. Also the complexity, ease of use and ability of today’s computer program allows a single user to do more than ever. As AAN provides tools and features for continued resourcefulness it will remain a valuable function for any alt-weekly publication. It will remain fundamental to continue to give members a reason to “need” AAN.
Executive editor, Chicago Reader
1. My main purpose in serving on the board is to push the association and the industry on the diversity front, particularly on my baby, the Academy for Alternative Journalism. I believe that the whiteness of most AAN editorial staffs is one of the industry’s most serious shortcomings. Given the competition for talented minority prospects, I think industry-wide initiatives like the Academy and the AAN diversity grants are essential. My main assets are an active conscience, long experience in the business, and friendly relations (at least I think so) with a wide variety of AAN members.
2. The traditional alt-weekly formula is being pressed on all sides — particularly by the Internet and by the efforts of large media companies to attract our readers. AAN’s most important job is to provide members with tools they can use in this new competitive environment. On a more philosophical note: because of these competitive pressures, the alt-weekly form is likely to evolve over the next few years. AAN must welcome and foster that evolution, not resist it.
Publisher, Salt Lake City Weekly
1. Spending 21 years at New Times in sales, marketing and publishing at both its large and smaller papers, and spending the last two years at City Weekly in Salt Lake as a partner developing the business side of the paper, has given me a broad base of experience including marketing. Becoming a member of the AAN board is an opportunity to get more involved in the industry I have made my career in and lend a hand in its continued development.
2. Broadly, staying editorially relevant to a changing demographic and continuing to grow our business in a changing marketplace. More immediately, help papers get second-class mailing permits, understand the future of classifieds — online vs. print — and determine the fate of national advertising.
Publisher, PW-Philadelphia Weekly
1. As a recently appointed publisher to an alternative paper in a major market, I led a multi-dimensional effort this year to re-design and re-brand our publication. Executing this strategy gave me a sense of the marketing efforts necessary for AAN papers as a whole. I have also worked in different advertising and leadership roles at two major metropolitan newspapers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, and I was vice president of advertising for Philadelphia Metro, a free daily paper. My broad experience positions me to understand the media-buying decision-making process; the value of young readers ( particularly the coveted “influentials” who read alt-weeklies) to advertisers; and the changing dynamics of the newspaper business and the effect it will have on alternative papers. I serve on the board of a Philadelphia arts nonprofit and was honored this year by the Philadelphia Arts and Business Council as the Business Volunteer of the Year, which demonstrates my commitment. My strengths that would best serve the AAN membership include leadership, consensus building and big-picture scope.
2. I think the key issue facing AAN is competition in a changing newspaper environment. The number of new publications started by large daily newspaper chains is staggering. The past three years has shown an unprecedented growth in the free newspaper category. both daily and weekly. AAN papers need to define our niche and impress upon marketers our readers’ value. AAN papers also need to develop long-term growth strategies to secure our future as an industry.
Obtaining meaningful research is also an issue for AAN right now. Most research is done via the phone and via a land line. Young readers typically do not own land lines and therefore our data will tend to skew older. Broadcast has had recent changes in its research by utilizing “people meters” in place of the typical Nielsen logs. The “people meter” captures who is watching a show, not just who lives in the house where the television is on. I think newspaper media research will be changing significantly in the near future.
Publisher, Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.)
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, and I’ve encouraged people from smaller papers and the independents to run for board seats. Board seats don’t need to necessarily be filled by just publishers (or just editors), and I think we always have to encourage women to step up to these leadership roles. Lately I have been reaching out to some younger people to get involved. After all, we are an aging group just like our readership, and we need to infuse our governing board with some youth.
2. Promoting our industry to help get on the map to ad agencies and regional buys in papers that are small- to medium-sized. Spending money in the coffers to provide sales tools to all papers, but especially making them relevant to our smaller markets that have struggling and resource-challenged papers. We all need help getting dollars that are pouring into Clear Channel-owned radio stations or corporate dailies.
Publisher, C-Ville Weekly (Charlottesville, Va.)
1. I want to serve on the AAN Board because I’d like 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.
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.