2003 Admissions Committee Recommendations

What a difference a year makes. In 2002, the Admissions Committee found only one of fourteen applicants ready for the AAN dance. This year, we’re happy to report, no less than four applying papers (out of 13) have gotten the AC’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Several others have been deemed worthy of serious consideration by the membership at Sunday’s annual meeting, at 9 am, in the King’s Garden room..

Has the Committee gone soft? Has its near-legendary mean streak vanished? Nope. Hard as it may be to believe, the journalistic climate out there in non-AAN land is evidently healthier than last year’s gloomy offerings suggested. Indeed, among this year’s recommendees are two papers in their very first year of publication, something that probably hasn’t happened in AAN since Albie del Favero had hair.

The Committee met, as always, at length, on Thursday morning the 5th, and when the dust settled, the 13 applicant papers had themselves settled into four distinct groups, as outlined below. Make sure you take a look at all of these papers before your paper casts its ballot Sunday, paying particular attention to the three which the Committee has placed in the “murky middle” category, declining to recommend either for or against admission. Give ’em a read, study the Committee comments below, and come to Sunday’s meeting ready to make up your mind. Remember, every vote counts.

One last procedural reminder: those papers that get two-thirds support from the membership (one vote per paper) are admitted. Any applicants that get majority support, but not two-thirds, will be given the opportunity to plead their case directly to the membership at the Annual Meeting, after which revotes will be conducted, to see if they’ve swayed any voters. If they haven’t, there’s always next year…


The Coast
Halifax, Nova Scotia
11 yes; 0 no.
The Committee unanimously recommends admission.

How do these Canadians do it? Two years ago, Vancouver’s Georgia Straight waltzed into AAN on the strength of a unanimous (and glowing) recommendation from the Admissions Committee. This time, Nova Scotia’s The Coast claims our “best of show” award, with nary a dissenting vote and hardly a criticism voiced by our usually acerbic crew. One committee member did express disappointment with the paper’s limited curling coverage, but other than that, this paper rocks…

Committee comments: “The Coast reeks of tender loving care, with scads of little design and editorial touches that tell us these folks are in command of what they’re doing. The paper is well formatted and organized, and packages work as intended. Writing and editing throughout is intelligent. The paper relentlessly fulfills its news obligation even on slow news weeks. A mature and fully-formed alt; the classic admissions-committee no-brainer.” – “Absolutely an AAN paper. News could be more hard-hitting, but arts is more edgy, and the cartoons and other elements give it a lot of life and make it fun to read.” – “This is a solid paper with a good balance of arts and news coverage, a mature but not stodgy voice, and good writing.” – “At the risk of provoking Homeland Security, I really dig the anti-U.S. attitude here. Not everything’s top-notch, but you can feel a lot of energy just turning the pages.” – “This paper is doing a very credible and creative job covering Halifax with limited human resources. With a combination of round-up columns, local news stories and short but stylish arts criticism, they’ve got lively and informative down.” – “This paper sounds as if it knows Halifax – especially the political and music scenes. It feels like, reads like and acts like an alternative…I guess it must be one.”

San Diego CityBeat
San Diego, California
9 yes; 2 no.
The Committee recommends admission.

Despite being just a 10-month-old puppy, this paper clearly fits the AAN mold. The Committee noted how well the Beat tackles serious issues and puts the work into covering them competently. Theirs is a tight little package, attractively presented and well balanced. With the exception of Edwin Decker (a Beat opinion columnist unanimously targeted by the AC for immediate extermination; “Retaining Decker,” said one member, “is like fouling your own Easter basket.”), the Beat staff is to be congratulated for getting this paper from zero to 60 in near-record time.

Committee comments “To get this much news out of San Diego, a notoriously soft news town, is really admirable. The writing and reporting in the paper is good. Overall the paper is going after the things it should be going after and doing a good job.” – “Very nicely done, as one would expect from a company that publishes two other alt-weeklies. A lively read, with strong story selection in the front of the book” – “The staff loves getting down to details, and is doing a lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to quite a few topics. It’s usually interesting to read what they’ve discovered. Listings are complete to the point of excess.” – “This paper combines an alternative approach to its subjects with maturity and professionalism. They seem to have a firm handle on everything they cover and the writing and editing quality is top notch.” – “Some parts of this paper really sing – ‘Weekly Noise’ rates as one of my favorite features. It’s quick, witty, informative, delivers a lot of punch quickly.” – “Despite the fact that they are relying almost entirely on freelancers, there’s a distinct voice. I didn’t know San Diego could sound so cool.”

Pointblank Des Moines
Des Moines, Iowa
8 yes; 3 no.
The Committee recommends admission.

Speaking of puppies, Pointblank has been on the street for just six months. Yet even though it’s still wet behind the ears, this enterprising paper is full of bureaucrat-busting features, short quirky takes, edgy columns and well-executed cover stories. Their arts coverage needs a little work, the AC agreed, but all in all, an excellent effort. This paper will go far, we think, in its market.

Committee comments: “There were some contradictions inside (e.g. blatant repeated use of “it’s” for possessive), but all in all this is a fine paper, especially considering it’s run by a staff of five.” – “Decent reporting and mostly strong writing, though points get belabored at times. Good mix of long, short, light, and heavy. Probably still has some growing to do, but it’s a pretty nice package.” – “A rare reversal on the usual mix, Pointblank’s news coverage is far superior to its arts coverage. Some of the features are a bit soft, but they’re well assembled and written with some attitude and authority. There are some odd (almost conservative/certainly mainstream) touches like the column about protecting your kids from airbags, but generally, the paper shows considerable courage in terms of who it takes on and who it sides with.” – “Great job for such a young paper. Looks good, reads well, really takes on the local government” – “This paper is impressive, considering it’s only been publishing for a year. Its voice is clear – perhaps because Tim Schmitt and Jon Gaskell write so much – and it’s smart and irreverent. The duo resists the temptation to pontificate about world news to focus on local news, sports and arts.”— “I could be moved to approve simply because they are so passionate about the news!” – “Not everything works, but they sure seem determined to get there. This paper growls. If they get a copy editor, it will also purr.”

Long Island Press
Garden City, New York

8 yes; 3 no.
The Committee recommends admission.

There’s a weird schizophrenia at work within its pages, but this paper is clearly a winner in its market, where, clearly, it is trying to define a place (Long Island) that defies definition. Formerly The New Island Ear, it has a kind of Newsday feel, which is probably not altogether bad, since the latter is the main competition. Thick as the phone book after less than two years in existence, the Press sometimes seems a bigger beast than its editorial staff can handle. But clearly, this is a legitimate alternative.

Committee comments: “Much of the paper is characterized by hip packaging surrounding well-directed shallowness. A strange mix of leftist politics, slightly over-the-top gimmicks, and middle-of-the-road features (“Coping with pet loss”; a St. Louis travel piece). Some things I just don’t understand. I want to say no to this occasionally embarrassing mix of mildly outrageous concepts and safe-and-dull features, but I can’t put my finger on what’s really wrong. And what they do well is appropriate for an AAN paper.” – “Think the cover features could ratchet up a notch. Sometimes they needed more reporting, more real people interviewed and some less dense writing. The column/news-shorts writing seems to be much better than in the features. Overall, though, this is a very readable paper” – “Lots and lots of arts. Music reads a bit puerile, but at least it’s pretty comprehensive. Amy Fisher as a columnist? It’s a fine idea, as strange as Long Island – but I wish she had more to say.” – “Exemplary in every respect. Earns one extra point for giving Amy Fisher a weekly column. Earns a second extra point for getting Amy Fisher to offer prison survival tips to Lizzie Grubman.” – “There’s a lot of fat that could (should) be trimmed, and some flat news stories. But all in all, it’s not a terrible paper. It’s got enough interesting material to keep me going and I can see it going places once it’s had some time to mature.”


Jackson Free Press
Jackson, Mississippi
6 yes; 5 no.
The Committee is undecided.

Also a rookie playing its first full season of ball, this paper is light years better than any alternative ever before attempted in this unusual city that could call itself the Buckle on the Bible Belt. The Free Press is something of a one-man (sorry, one-woman) band; we all wonder if Editor Donna Ladd ever takes a day off. But her skills and energy are clearly on display within these pages. Rough around the edges, and with plenty of unevenness throughout, this paper’s application deserves careful consideration by all member papers before Sunday’s vote. It is very engaging, and unafraid of controversy.

Committee comments: “This paper is an alternative in a town with a Gannett daily. It is raising issues and questions, not that the daily isn’t covering, but doing it in more of an in-your-face way.” – “There’s too much glib commentary masquerading as serious journalism to suit my tastes.” – “Jackson needs a publication like this. If AAN is going to look past its more sophisticated, demanding urban criteria and expand membership to smaller markets, this paper’s a perfect excuse for doing just that”– “An unsteady mixture of alternative-perspective news and community-grade features. Overall the attitude is there, but there’s a real need for more reporting. A well-meant and well-packaged paper that I’m sure isn’t going to go soft and would benefit from being in AAN.” – “For all their strengths, they’re still very young and not yet ready. They need another year to work out the weaknesses, and our encouragement to refine the mix. But I would pick this paper up religiously if I were to find myself living in Mississippi.” – “This is a real, legitimate community alternative. Covers and involves the African-American community (and uses black writers) far more than most alts. Needs more reporting and less analysis but definitely an AAN paper” – “ I like the spirit of this but it doesn’t have its legs yet. Seems like a bunch of people who will figure it out.” – “This paper’s teetering somewhere in the balance between decent local coverage and cliché lifestyle fluff. If the staff can figure out what its vision is, where it wants to put the most energy, and how it plans to tighten up its book, it might do well.” – “This is another one of those Southern-style dilemmas: They say it’s alternative for Jackson, but is that alternative enough? Once the paper finds its groove, with a minor design overhaul and better arts coverage, I think it will be.”

Maui Time Weekly
Lahaina, Hawaii
6 yes; 5 no.
The Committee is undecided.

Is it Maui time yet? After several years considering its membership applications, the Admissions Committee still can’t make up its mind. There’s no question that this Paper from Paradise has shown consistent improvement; Tommy Russo is one publisher who takes the AC’s criticism of his paper constructively. The design and packaging have improved enormously. But while there’s more news here than before, the paper still needs more of an edge – and better editing. Again, please give this one a very close read before voting.

Committee comments: “If just a little more attention could be paid to improving the consistency and range of the writing and reporting in this newspaper, I could fully support this newspaper for membership.”– “So close, and yet so far. Give them credit for trying, but the cover story on a stale missing person that offered up a rather generic essay, rather than competent shoe-leather reporting, was lame. Still, this paper shows promise.” – “While not uniformly outstanding, this paper is a well-rounded weekly with enough compelling news and opinion to carry your interest all the way from front to back.” – “We now have a mix of well-written and poorly-edited pieces, with short features being generally good and long features being generally muddled and mis-directed. They have got to shake the habit of substituting encyclopedia entries for feature articles. The paper still has a way to go, but we’re not going to provoke the next phase of improvement by turning them down again.” – “This paper has improved, showing again what can be done when there is energy and passion behind the mission. Maui Time should be encouraged to keep getting better, as should we all.” – “Maui Time now has a real news section, with some real stories that reflect an interest in the community and aren’t just sops to the tourist trade. But the writing is very weak and this paper badly needs a strong editor.” – “Writing and editing need serious help. Intent is good and they have made serious strides in the right direction.” – “It’s a tossup now, between rewarding Maui Time for its considerable effort or slapping them down again for not getting it all ‘right.’ Remember, the quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath…” – “This paper conveys a strong sense of place — and spirit — in very few pages. I want to like it. But Maui Time suffers from a lack of critical thinking. The news stories are soft and shallow and the arts stuff reads like re-written press releases. The whole pub has an adolescent, half-baked feel.”

Boston’s Weekly Dig
Boston, Massachusetts
5 yes; 5 no.

The Committee is undecided. (Clif Garboden recused for market conflict.)

“I’m sitting on the fence with splinters in my ass,” said one erudite committee member in regard to the Dig. By and large, the AC shares his sentiments. Like Maui Time, this paper’s publisher (Jeff Lawrence) has taken the committee’s criticisms to heart, and dramatically improved his paper since last year. But is it enough? The effort at hard news coverage is applauded, and there’s no question the Dig aims to reach a younger, hipper audience than most other AAN papers. It’s definitely different, but as Mr. Erudite observed, “There’s nothing innovative about post-adolescent male belligerence.” Make sure you dig into the Dig before Sunday.

Committee comments: “Something about this paper makes me get prickly. I don’t like it.” – “What the Dig needs now is a good editor who can mold stories into compelling narratives, and send writers back to the drawing board for more tough questions. In any other city, this paper would probably be a dead ringer for admission, but we should expect more from a city like Boston.” – “Token effort to cover local news doesn’t meet my standards for a true newsweekly.” – “I’d suggest that the Dig diversify its arts offerings and try harder – as in more reporting – with cover features.” – “A good paper if you’re a 20-something looking for one news article and some lively music coverage” – “The Dig’s news component has improved considerably over last year. It’s still a bit weak, but showing signs of life.” – “This paper has a strong voice that speaks loudly to young adult males. Lawrence has clearly taken our recommendations to heart, and his paper appears to have some street cred. It’s local and edgy.” – “The paper is trying to be different and interesting and an ‘alternative to the alternatives,’ and I applaud that. Problem is, the paper is just not that good. The writing in a lot of the stories is weak — self-centered, unoriginal, self-indulgent — and the editing is not very good either. Reporting in some of the news pieces is thin, and focuses way too much on what the writer thinks instead of what the subjects of the stories think.” – “The Dig staff is brash, full of attitude and covers parts of Boston that the bigger alt doesn’t cover. They’re known for their music coverage, and the rest of the paper feeds off of that – but they’ve put efforts into news, and it shows. I say let them in.”


The Strip
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
5 yes; 6 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

The staff of the Strip is trying hard to produce a bona fide alternative paper in a very small, college-town (University of Alabama) market. Their hearts are definitely in the right place, but we think they need more craftsmanship, better reporting, more competent editing, and more creative story selection before being admitted into AAN. Many of the Committee’s “yes” votes were strong “A’s” for effort. Hopefully, the Strip staff will be back next year with a better, more comprehensive package.

Committee comments: “Although the local news coverage is somewhat limited and padded with too much commentary, the reporting is competent and the story selection is reasonably good. Limping along with a dearth of ads for the moment, this paper shows great promise as it grows. – “This paper takes a very mainstream approach to features and they are pretty well written. But everything’s glossy and common; there’s no edge to anything. I’ll put these guys into the ‘try again’ bin.” – “I understand that this is a small paper, probably working with a very small budget, but it’s still thin in terms of content. The basics are here, but I’d like to see it work on improving the quality of its content and design, then come back again with an improved product.” – “I admire their spunk and style, but they simply haven’t the horses, yet, it seems, to run the race.” – “Not there yet. They need to do more local stories, cover the local arts/entertainment scene better. And the features need to be a lot better — both in ideas and writing. Next to inaccuracy the cardinal sin in writing is being boring and those features just really do need a little pizzazz.” – “Until their news commitment increases, I’m slightly more negative than positive on the paper. Given the chance to grow, this will be a ‘wow!’ for Tuscaloosa.” – “On one hand, there are occasional sparks of brilliance. Too bad the paper is not a thorough effort from front to back.”

City Pulse
Lansing, Michigan
5 yes; 6 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

Another paper that’s improved considerably since last year, the Pulse still seems to lack focus in terms of what it actually wants to be. Story selection and packaging appear peculiar, leaving the reader confused as to what’s he’s learned and/or what he was supposed to learn. “Yes, this paper has a pulse, but no heart,” said one AC member, perhaps unkindly. But there is a certain drabness to the overall approach. Get out the gray, we say, and try again next year.

Committee comments: “There’s some clumsy writing and editing evident here, but it’s obvious that City Pulse is trying hard to do the right thing. Excellent balanced and intelligent news section.” – “Very professionally if pedantically edited, but that doesn’t make it an enjoyable read. – “Here’s a paper with all the right ingredients, but not enough fine-tuning to make it a smooth ride. Event-driven covers such as MLK Day, noble as they are, just don’t serve as compelling material. Too many of the news items read like missed opportunities to dig just a little deeper.” – “The features need some life, some clearer writing. Too often the thread of the story is lost as the writer sidetracks into some unnecessary overmaking of a point. They need to trust the reader a bit more to get their points without pounding them into the dirt.” – “Not much reporting on anything. Much of the arts writing is immature and ill-informed.” – “This is not a terrible paper, just one that’s not very well developed at this point. The paper needs a stronger editing hand, more enterprising reporting, and a more critical approach to its arts coverage. But it has some shining moments that redeem some of the weaker elements of the paper.” – “This hit-and-miss paper looks like a community newspaper. It reads better, though. Still, I wouldn’t call it alternative. Who are ‘the rest of us’ — to which it is directed? It needs strong, regular voices, including some young ones, a better designer and more pages.” – “Appears as if the paper’s quality is improving; if this continues they’d be ready next year for admission.”

Buffalo Alternative Press
Buffalo, New York
2 yes; 9 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

The problem here is not that this paper isn’t an alternative newsweekly; it’s just not a very good one. Lots of good ideas about what should be done, but there’s not a whole lot of competent execution here. Sorry.

Committee comments: “This paper needs to grow some. There’s just not enough to it. It needs to reorganize as well. It needs a lot more reporting, a lot less philosophizing and some better writing.” – “Brimming with the slightly congealed expectoration of old-school lefties swollen with bile. Willingness to devote half a page to the possibility that Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was murdered seems somewhat grasping.” – “It’s really difficult to get a read on what this paper’s about. Basically, Alt Press is plagued by a tendency to impose opinions on news and offer flat conclusions. Other times, it seems just plain confused.” – “There’s clearly a strong sense of mission and politics here; equally clear, the paper lacks the will or resources to do much reporting. But the broad-siding rings true. They’re strident and on the right side, but dress poorly.” – “A leftist underground paper not fully embracing the alternative model. I definitely believe they are unique and worth reading in Buffalo. But you’re not going to get much in the way of what to do while you’re there.” – “The problem with this paper is that it lacks reporters or critics willing to think beyond their own noses.” – “’Hints for a healthy colon?’ If they are that desperate for filler for a 16 page bi-weekly, they aren’t digging.” – “You can’t produce a quality paper on attitude alone, and that’s just about all this one has going for it.” – “This paper does like to skewer public officials. That seems to be about all it can do, though, in the news department. It’s long on opinion and attitude and short on reporting and balance. There’s some lively writing here, but it’s inconsistent. The stories are either too national or too inside baseball. They are clearly trying, but it ain’t there yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”


City Link
Oak Park, Illinois
2 yes; 9 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

This is a credible neighborhood newspaper serving a near-city Chicago suburb. But there is no edge, no enterprise, and no reason for their being in AAN.

Committee comments: “This paper needs to decide whether it’s going to be a truly alternative paper or a community paper with a couple of shock spots. They’re also way too cozy with their advertisers.” – “Modest attempt to cover local news needs the enhancement of some enterprising journalism. This paper is a mainstream community weekly, not an alternative.” – “A fair to good paper, especially considering its size. Yet it needs to broaden its topics and areas of concern if it wants to grow into a true alternative voice.” – “Sorry. City Link does a good job at some things, but this is a community paper, not an alternative.” – “This is a weekly community newspaper. I think there is another organization they could join.” – “A perfectly nice neighborhood newspaper, with strong community listings. I’m sure I’d pick it up if I lived there. But there’s not much in the way of local news (there’s actually a headline that reads ‘Bus shelter installed.’) No arts except press-release stuff.” – “There is something refreshing about this little (12-20 pg) paper. It may be a good complement to the larger weeklies in that market. There just needs to be more of it to make it real” – “This paper is only a step or two away from being a weekly shopper or neighborhood association newsletter.” – “This is a neighborhood newspaper and an abysmal one at that. I love the way they sell a front-page ad to the business featured on the next page.”

Rock River Times
Rockford, Illinois
0 yes; 11 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

This is obviously a strong-willed and popular community newspaper. But it is badly flawed. There are lots of opinion pieces, but no hard news coverage. And when your lead story is about a kidney transplant, and titled “Our free classified ad pays off for young girl and family,” there’s more than a few problems here. Thanks again for applying.

Committee comments: “I’m not sure exactly what this is. I guess it’s a very aggressive community newspaper that’s tough on politics and easy on anything from the arts. I would definitely read RRT if I lived in that neighborhood. But I don’t think I would describe them as an alternative weekly.” – “A boring community weekly, and a bad-looking one at that, one that substitutes weak commentary for competent news coverage. Basically, the very look and feel of this paper kills even the slightest chance that anyone would take it seriously. Looks like your uncle’s toupee.” – “RRT is a truly odd mix of left-leaning opinion and lightweight community news and garden features.” – “I’m hard pressed to describe this paper. While its political tone is liberal, the cultural coverage is staid and traditional. Having pastors, restaurant owners and angry old white men as columnists doesn’t make for a palatable stew. This is an overcooked mess of a stew!” – “This is as ‘community weekly’ as it gets. It reads like they’re just letting people write whatever they want.” – “The front page of this rag says it all: the RRT is ‘the voice of the community.’ It’s a public-access paper.”

Santa Maria Sun
Santa Maria, California
0 yes; 11 no.
The Committee recommends against admission.

This excellent community newspaper’s headlines are a dead giveaway: “Sewer Installation Delays Drivers,” “Fire Season Almost Over,” etc. The Sun looks sharp, but feels blunt. There is a commitment to comprehensive community coverage, but nothing resembling an edge or an attitude. Sorry; come back later if/when the focus changes.

Committee comments: “This is not an alternative paper, unless you consider running ‘News of the Weird’ as the ultimate criterion. This is a weekly community paper.” – “This looks like a zoned weekly supplement to a small-market daily.” – “The commitment to local news is promising, but the bland story mix and lack of enterprise make this paper read like a community weekly, rather than an alternative.” – “This paper isn’t chopped liver. Oops, sorry, yes, it is.” – “This is a weekly community newspaper. I think there is another organization they could join. Just not AAN.” – “ This has the look and feel of an AAN paper until you look at the content up front: ‘Tutoring offered at youth center’, and ‘Community Bank turns profit’.” – “The police-blotter, Chamber-of-Commerce boosterish stuff is fine for a community paper, but nothing here is really alternative. The news stories have no edge, the arts writing no bite. I don’t dislike this paper; it’s fine for what it is, and it obviously serves a community purpose. But I have to vote no.” – “All I have to say about this paper is that the newsletter in my grandfather’s retirement community is more edgy and alternative.” – “There’s nothing really wrong with The Santa Maria Sun. It’s just not an alt weekly. It’s a community weekly, albeit a very attractive one.” – “There’s rarely a spark of excitement here. Here’s a paper that should move beyond the niceties of being a community voice and move toward hitting some targets.”

The 2003 AAN Admissions Committee: Ben Chapman (C-Ville Weekly), Margaret Downing (Houston Press), Ben Fulton (Salt Lake City Weekly), Clif Garboden (Boston Phoenix), Matt Gibson (Missoula Independent), Ken Neill (Memphis Flyer/Chair), Tim Redmond (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Paula Routly (Seven Days/Vermont), Erin Sullivan (Baltimore City Paper), Sioux Watson (Raleigh Independent), Fran Zankowski (New Mass Media).