Two Each from Buffalo and Tacoma Among the Ranks.
As was the case in 1997, 16 newspapers have again applied for admission into AAN.
Chaired by Salt Lake City Weekly Publisher John Saltas, the 11-member Admissions Committee has already received publishers’ statements and sample copies of each of the contending papers. The committee will huddle and make its recommendations on Wednesday, June 10. Their recommendations will be revealed the following day when the AAN convention commences. The final vote will take place on Saturday, June 13 at the annual meeting when AAN member papers will cast their ballots.
Here’s a rundown of the contestants:
Lexington, Kentucky’s Ace Magazine is a newcomer to the AAN membership committee.
The biweekly, 20,000-circulation paper, produced in the heart of bluegrass country, is “the clear alternative to the mainstream media in our town,” says Publisher Susan Saylor Yeary. “We usually have more local news in one issue than the daily has in an entire week.”
Being the alternative in the conservative city of 330,000 residents has not been without its tribulations, according to Saylor Yeary. For instance, the paper was temporarily banned from the local library after it published a condom-ripe story on the distribution of free prophylactics at an area high school.
Even if the paper doesn’t make the cut for membership this time around, Saylor Yeary considers the application a fruitful enterprise.
“Our goal is to be an AAN-style-newspaper,” she says. “With a solid news section, investigative pieces, doing more solution-type journalism is important to us. If we don’t get in [to AAN], at least we will know more clearly what we have to do to improve and become a better paper.”
>From the land of five million tee-times comes Alternative Newsmagazine, based in the resort city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. With 25,000 copies published biweekly, the paper serves a resident population of roughly 400,000 people along a coastal corridor stretching from Wilmington, North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, the second fastest growing city in America.
This is the second year the newspaper has sought AAN membership.
Owner Bill Darby says the paper has undergone various upgrades in the past year, including using a better grade of newsprint; adding more columnists; and opening editorial offices in Wilmington as well as a political bureau in Charleston.
“I know you guys [AAN] like weekly publications and I don’t foresee us going weekly in the near future,” says Darby of his paper’s chances for membership. “I don’t know if that hurts us or not. I do know, though, that this is an area where 22 million tourists spend close to $5 billion every year, and you guys like having papers in growing markets.”
One of the two Buffalo, New York papers vying for AAN membership, Artvoice hopes that the third time is the charm.
Founded in 1990, the paper circulates 45,000 copies each week and has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years, moving from a culture and entertainment-based publication to one with more of a hard news slant. Today, in addition to the arts, the paper focuses on such issues as urban sprawl, downtown revitalization, public education and casino gambling.
“We always used to have arts on the cover,” says founder and Editor Jamie Moses. “Now we have more news stories on it. Also, when you open the paper now, there’s more front-end news.”
Publisher Tina Savas’ aim is to produce “the number one alternative in the state of Alabama.”
“Our mission is to unify the city and the surrounding area,” says Savas, who also owns Birmingham Business Journal, “to improve the racial diversity and economic disparity in the area. This is fertile ground for an alternative paper.”
The paper initially distributed 30,000 copies when it was launched in fall 1997. But despite a population of roughly one million in the Birmingham area, the big distribution numbers had to be pulled back to around 25,000 copies because Savas kept having stacks of issues returned to the office.
In its young existence, the paper has already tackled topics the community had never seen in print before, including coverage of the battle between the city’s two daily papers.
“Our job is to challenge readers, to open their eyes to information they’ve never read about before,” says Savas. “We want people to know that we will be in their face. They don’t necessarily have to read us, but they can’t ignore us.”
Buffalo’s other contestant was barely out of the womb when its maiden application for AAN membership was submitted at last year’s convention. Now entering its toddler stage, the 50,000-circulation weekly is “an absolutely far better” newspaper than it was a year ago, says Editor Natalie Green.
“We were like little sponges soaking up information at the convention [last year],” says Green. “We don’t have a mentor in town and that’s why we looked and still look toward AAN for the national standard we want the paper to be.”
“When asked to provide examples of the paper’s editorial maturation, Green points to an article the Beat published last November: “There was a man, the front runner running for county sheriff, who also happened to be a good friend of the mayor’s. This man also ran the biggest security firm in the city. He went on and on about how he had attended Harvard and went on an FBI-sponsored trip to Eastern Europe, but no media outlet in town checked into what he was saying.”
That was until the paper dispatched a reporter to scrutinize the candidate’s business ties as well as his power-packed resume. As it turned out, he didn’t graduate from Harvard, but only attended a Crimson seminar. Moreover, the paper discovered that his security company had been given various city contracts.
After the Beat ran the story, the city’s other media outlets caught on and the one-time Democratic front runner ended up losing the election by more than 30 percent to an unknown Republican.
AAN membership would mean “a sense of accomplishment,” according to Green. But she’s also quick to add that it wouldn’t be an end in itself.
“The standard AAN presents is a very good standard to go by,” she says. “While there isn’t a mentor for us locally, there is wisdom out there that we can use to produce a good newspaper. Since AAN offers that knowledge, it’s up to us to avail ourselves to it, and membership would be the start.”
C-Ville Weekly Publisher Bill Chapman boasts that his paper’s controversial stories come at a cost of “one advertiser and 25 readers per week.” But, he says, these same stories probably add twice that number of new readers and advertisers.
Founded in 1989, the 17,000-circulation weekly prides itself on shunning the hackneyed news of the “old guard” — i.e., reverential stories about Thomas Jefferson, restored plantations, polo matches and local Democrats — that the area’s other media outlets are always more than eager to cover.
“We sometimes get reminders that this is a small town,” says Chapman of the 50,000-resident locale. “Not too long ago we had a bunch of grocery stores pull one issue because we published a picture of a streaker running across the grounds at UVA [University of Virginia]. That’s been a tradition for years, but I guess nobody ever ran a picture of it.”
As for the odds of the Weekly becoming an AAN member, Chapman says, “I have no idea. I don’t understand the admissions process.”
The mission of the West Columbia, South Carolina-based weekly is to educate, inform and entertain its readers while also making the city of 100,000 people a better place to live. Founded as a music publication, the newsweekly has taken more of a hard news angle since it first applied for AAN membership a couple years ago.
In the past year, Free Times — with a weekly distribution that will grow to 30,000 copies in August — has taken the lead in uncovering mercury contamination in the local river’s fishing stock and a laundry facility set in a residential area that cleans clothes contaminated with radioactive waste.
Publisher Amy Singmaster says it will be impossible for the application committee not to notice that the paper is a far better product than it was just two years ago.
“It was a music paper back then,” says Singmaster, “and besides a few other people, it was just me putting it out. I want us to get the point where our readers don’t have to read the daily paper to find out what’s going on. We don’t have enough local news yet, but we’re getting better. There’s no doubt about that.”
Long Island Voice
The brainchild of Stern Publishing, the Long Island Voice debuted last year and covers the eclectic area from Queens and the suburbs east all the way to Mantauk — a stretch that requires more than two hours to traverse by car. With no hub, the 60,000-circulation, year-old paper has created a “virtual community,” according to Publisher Andrea Stern.
“We’re very proud of the paper,” she says. “We came from a great tradition in the Village Voice, but we didn’t want to simply be an appendage [to it].”
Sculpting its own identity means covering issues unique to Long Islanders, such as stories on the environment and the local electric company, and following bands from the island for a year to see what the music industry gods may have in store for them.
Robert Boone prides himself on being a well-traveled man. During his sojourns to various cities across the U.S., he always made it a point to pick up the area’s alternative newsweekly. Boone — who was “annoyed” that the Duluth, Minnesota area never had its own alternative — decided to do something about it: He started his own paper.
Northland Reader, published every other week with a circulation of 13,000, is distributed throughout the greater Duluth area, which includes the cities of Cloquet, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.
According to Boone, the Reader has already caught the public’s collective eye by “scooping everybody” on stories about a major business moving out of the downtown area as well as one on a man who intentionally infected people with HIV.
Launching an alternative in this city is unenviable task, says Boone. Some businesses have already pledged never to advertise in the paper because a certain cartoon or story has offended them.
“This town isn’t what you’d call completely liberal,” says Boone. “For instance, Duluth just got its first cyber cafe. It’s difficult trying to convince people that we’re going to be here for awhile.”
This being the Reader’s maiden attempt at AAN admission, Boone isn’t optimistic about his paper’s chances.
“I’m almost certain we’ll be turned down,” he says. “But the way I understand it, most papers get rejected on their first try. But at least [by applying] we’ll get that out of the way.”
Jim O’Neill was parked on a bar stool with a few of his former colleagues from the Grand Rapids Press, carping about the area’s need for an alternative media voice. Six to eight beers later, the group came up with the name, the Paper, and several months after that, Grand Rapids’ alternative newsweekly was launched.
Now just a year old, the Paper, with a circulation of 12,500, is committed to publishing in-depth, well-crafted pieces that explore the issues, events and personalities that make the community tick.
Judging from the response of one particular high school teacher who snags 20 copies each week because he wants his journalism class to “read a paper that actually cares about the community it covers,” it appears that the formula is working.
“This has been very rewarding,” says O’Neill, the Paper’s publisher. “We just had a reader’s survey and the kind of responses we’ve been getting are things like, ‘Your paper is engaging and insightful. Don’t change a thing.’ This is the voice this community has needed for quite some time.”
The Paper (formerly City Edition)
The Milwaukee-based publication, established in 1988 as City Edition, was purchased last fall from Carol Weiss by Publisher Greg Quindel and six other investors. Re-flagged The Paper, the ownership group has already elevated its weekly circulation from 13,000 to 30,000.
Quindel, who formerly worked at another AAN paper, Shepherd Express, says The Paper was a decent shell of a newspaper when it was acquired, but adds, “It had no sense of what it was trying to do. It was predictable, not very provocative and not really connected to the community. It needed a unique voice.”
In less than a year, the newsweekly is fast-moving from its status as a “bland, A&E” paper to one with a more hard news edge, according to Quindel. Last month, Bruce Murphy, a former Milwaukee Magazine staffer who also had a tenure as the A&E editor at Madison’s Isthmus, was named editor. Quindel says Murphy’s enlistment has added immediate legitimacy to the publication.
“I got a call from a friend after Bruce’s first cover story came out [on the state legislature’s stab at taking over Milwaukee’s haggard public school system],” says Quindel. “Everybody at the capital was reading it. He’s had an immediate impact.”
pulse of the twin cities
So, what’s it like for a greenhorn weekly to go against a well-financed, established paper like Minneapolis’ City Pages ?
“They play hard ball,” says pulse of the twin cities Publisher Ed Felien. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s no picnic, but it’s fun. I’m enjoying myself.”
Started last spring, the publication was founded in part in response to City Pages parent Stern Publishing’s shuttering of the Twin Cities Reader.
“Before that [the Reader’s closing],” says Felien, a former Minneapolis city councilman, who also published a paper called Hundred Flowers in 1970, “we had always had two alternative papers in town. We wanted to continue that tradition, especially one that is locally-owned.”
According to Felien, his 30,000-circulation paper can’t go head-to-head with City Pages when it comes to hard news. However, he says his paper’s strong point is its music coverage.
“We think we have a much closer handle on what’s going inside the clubs, the albums,” he says. “We devote much of our coverage to music — like this week, for instance — we’ve got the band Semisonic on the cover. That’s our niche.”
The Omaha Reader
This is second stab at AAN membership for Omaha, Nebraska’s four-year-old alternative. The Reader consistently runs around 64 pages and its 30,000 copies are distributed in Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs.
Editor John Heaston says the newsweekly strives to fill a void for in-depth coverage of local issues.
“The T.V. gives you 30 seconds and no depth of understanding,” says Heaston. “The daily [Omaha World-Herald] just gives you stories that string together a bunch of quotes.”
If admitted to the AAN fraternity, Heaston knows that his paper will still be among the lower-tier in terms of editorial content. However, the young paper has grown steadily in the past four years, adding pages, advertisers and readers, and in addition, The Reader has recently beefed up its editorial ranks, which will allow pursuit of meatier, investigative pieces.
“We are not the weekly beer rag,” says Heaston. “We’re established and we’ve got a good read. I think we produce a paper that’s good enough to fit into AAN.”
Founded in 1995 by Paula Routly and Pamela Polston, a pair of former reporters at former AAN-member paper, Vermont Times, Seven Days has enjoyed a furious climb to become a major player in the greater Burlington market of 125,000 people. It started with 24 pages. It now totals more than 50. While Seven Days was launched mainly as an arts weekly, in January it was awarded a first-place prize by the New England Press Association for its feature story on a local rape victim.
After attending last year’s convention in Montreal, Co-Publisher and Editor Paula Routly is a bit nervous about her paper’s application submission.
“I was reading where they [the admissions committee] posts its critique of the papers,” says Routly. “They can be pretty vicious.”
Nonetheless, Routly says the Burlington area, rated as one of the 10 most enlightened cities in America, continues to pile on the accolades.
“What we’re doing has been pretty well-received,” she says. “The growth has been impressive. We think the quality of writing is pretty high and we hope we can maintain that standard of excellence.”
Tacoma City Paper
The first of Tacoma’s two entrants, City Paper debuted last year as a new editorial product of Swarner Communications, a firm which also owns two military newspapers in the region, the Fort Lewis Ranger and McChord Airlifter. City Paper has a weekly circulation of 38,000, of which 30,000 are disseminated as an insert in the military publications. The other 8,000 copies are separately distributed in free-standing racks.
According to Ken Swarner, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, AAN membership would be “a prestigious thing more than anything else.”
“To be in that kind of company with those sort of newspapers,” he says, “would be a pretty cool thing.”
Tacoma Reporter (formerly Tacoma Voice)
The Reporter, which recently changed its name, began in 1996. Today, 20,000 copies are distributed weekly throughout greater Tacoma, an area a half-hour south of Seattle with nearly 700,000 residents.
Publisher Jeff Daniel says the newsweekly was conceived in the belief that the area should shape its own identity, instead of being relegated to the neglected step-child status it has so long endured for being in such close proximity to the bigger, forever-hip neighbor to the north.
“There hasn’t been a lot of pride in the Tacoma area in recent years,” says Daniel. “In many ways, the media in town catered to what was going on in Seattle and looked to Seattle for things to do. I always thought that was bullshit. There’s plenty to do in this city and this newspaper aims to cater to this market.”
AAN membership, says Daniel, “In terms of integrity would probably mean nothing. But some advertising agencies see it as a sign of legitimacy. It’s just all part of the game, right?”