A Report From the IMI Board Meeting

AlterNet Fee Structure Described.

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ official relationship with the Independent Media Institute (formerly the Institute for Alternative Journalism) ended at IMI’s mid-November board meeting — not with a bang, but a whimper.

Actually, make that a sniffle. IMI president Ron Williams (former owner of the Detroit Metro Times, Orlando Weekly, etc.), current resident of some Caribbean island, was laid up in New York City by illness and couldn’t make the meeting; in his absence, board member Denise Caruso presided over the November 12 IMI meeting at the IMI office, and moved the agenda along at a brisk pace. She moved it so quickly, in fact, that the Saturday morning slot allotted to discussion of AAN was moved on Friday to that very afternoon — and AAN President Patricia Calhoun (i.e., me) barely made the tail end of the meeting before it ended altogether.

For those who have missed the action thus far, a brief recap: IAJ was actually started in the early 1980s by AAN members (the original bylaws called for at least half of IAJ’s board members to be from AAN papers) who wanted to push editorial projects — including, but not limited to, the sort of editorial sharing that AAN members had always engaged in (although usually by the informal method of seeing a story in another paper, then calling the editor of that paper and asking if the story could be reprinted).

This informal arrangement eventually became formalized as AlterNet, complete with full-time employees scanning papers for stories, then making them available by whatever technology was current at the time. Done this way, however, AlterNet proved a less-than-profitable enterprise. As IAJ worked to raise funds, and Don Hazen became executive director and moved the office from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, AlterNet also became a smaller and smaller part of the institute. Meanwhile, AAN was continuing to pay IAJ dues ($300 a year) for all of its member papers.

Eighteen months ago, IAJ and AAN both agreed that the situation had evolved to the point that it was time for the two organizations to part ways. In a separation agreement, IAJ agreed that AAN could cut its dues subsidy in half through the end of 1999, and AAN members would retain their Alternet memberships through that time. (After that, it was up to the paper to work with IAJ/IMI.) AAN also agreed to the removal of the AAN-representative board requirement from the bylaws of IAJ. And so, the November 12 board meeting was AAN’s last official appearance at an IMI board meeting.

And that, dear reader, is as much background on a very complex situation as I’m going to offer here; for more details, read back issues of AAN News, check out the AAN News archives online, call me, or call any of the IMI board members who are also AAN members — Jeff von Kaenel of the News & Review organization, for example.

Following are IMI’s current plans for AlterNet, as discussed at the board meeting.

IMI plans to continue with AlterNet, along with other projects. But now, AAN members that want to subscribe must pay annual dues. As of January 1, the annual dues will be as follows: $400 for class A (circulation above 80,000), $300 for B (circulation between 30,000 and 79,999) and $200 for class C (under 30,000).

For fiscal year 2000, every $1000 spent on content will result in a $50 reduction in 2001 fees. (By way of comparison, in 1999, approximately 40 papers spent more than $1,000 on content.)

Subscribing to AlterNet also involves website access fees. In fiscal year 2000, access fees will remain the same: A category-$90 quarterly; B category-$60 quarterly; C category-$30 quarterly.

Story fees in 2000: ten cents a word for A papers, 6 cents a word for B papers, 4 cents a word for C papers. IMI will continue to split the money with the originating paper.

If your paper plans to continue with AlterNet, you should contact IMI for more details. But no doubt you’re already on the mailing list.

In the meantime, AAN’s editorial committee envisions a return to the sort of editorial sharing that provided the original inspiration for AlterNet — and Web technology makes such sharing a great deal easier.

The AAN website now has a place where editors can post stories they’d like to offer to other publications. It’s called Story Sharing on the home page. You must be a registered user of the website to get to it.

AAN is just providing the service; it isn’t taking a cut of any reprint fees. In a few weeks we will post in the area a “standard agreement” (written by lawyers) that AAN papers may voluntarily adopt to easily establish the terms of a syndication agreement.

To make this work, AAN editors must be active — both in posting stories, and in requesting stories they’d like to see. If you need any help in figuring out how to use this part of the AAN website, please call the AAN office at (202) 822-1955.

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