AAN Board Candidates Make Their Pitch

Elections for 11 positions on the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ Board of Directors will be held on Saturday, June 16, during the association’s annual meeting in Portland.

Nine of the positions are opening according to AAN’s regular, staggered election schedule. The two remaining seats are up for election because the current occupants plan to run for different positions on the board.

Six board members — Francis Zankowski, Robby Robbins, Carol Flagg, Patricia Calhoun, Tim Redmond and Mark Bartel — are seeking re-election to their current seats. Zankowski is running for treasurer, a position he was appointed to last year when Rob Jiranek resigned after leaving the industry. There is one year remaining in the treasurer’s term.

Three other incumbents hope to change positions on the board. Mark Zusman will resign as bylaws chair to run for vice president; Bill Bleakley will step down from the one year remaining in his term as an at-large member to run for the chair being vacated by Zusman; and Stephen Leon plans to make the traditional move from vice president to president.

Two non-incumbent board members have also thrown their hats in the ring. Jeff Lawrence will seek election to an at-large seat and former board member Paul Curci is running for convention chair.

There are two at-large seats opening. One carries a two-year term and the other — the position being vacated by Bleakley — is for one year.

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.

To acquaint AAN members with the candidates and their goals, AAN News asked each of them two questions. Their responses are below. (Curci’s statement will be distributed separately in Saturday’s convention newsletter.)

1. Why do you want to be on the AAN board?

2. What are the most important issues that AAN faces?

Stephen Leon, editor and publisher, Metroland

1. I have enjoyed serving these past three years on the AAN board (one year as bylaws chair and two as vice president), and look forward to continuing on as president. The AAN board is a very dynamic and fun group of people to work with; I have learned so much from everyone, from board veterans like Clif Garboden to newcomers like Donna Ladd, and of course I have watched and listened to the incomparable Ken Neill very closely for two years (though, sadly, I’m not sure I’ll ever quite be able to match his expertise at ordering wine). I look forward to building on the knowledge and experience I have gained working with this group as we continue to seek new and productive ways to serve the AAN membership.

2. AAN faces a number of important issues at this time, not the least of which is that the organization’s own budget faces an uncertain future because of the very real possibility that we will not be able to rely on the AAN CAN revenue stream remaining at or even close to current levels. So the board and the staff have an important task ahead in identifying and opening up new revenue streams; at the same time, as Mike Lenehan has said so eloquently, we must bear in mind that the survival of the association is not more important than the needs and survival of its members.

Media consolidation has arrived in our industry in a big way, and we have only just begun to feel our way through our response as an organization. As a three-plus-year member of both the bylaws and membership committees, I have been in the middle of the struggle to rethink the association’s identity as we inevitably see more and more member and applying papers that belong to chains or conglomerates. Some members have expressed uneasiness at how we have handled this transition so far; clearly there is something of a divide bewteen those who believe that chain ownership dilutes the association’s character and those who believe that the quality of the newspaper is more important than who owns it and where else its tentacles go. I believe the board has a responsibility to lead on this issue and to unite the members in achieving the best possible balance between these two notions.

Finally, the rapidly changing face of media presents one of the greatest challenges to our survival, but also some great opportunities. Again, AAN’s role is to help members solve the new riddles, learn to use online publishing to their advantage, and stay competitive with other new media. (Last year’s web publishing conference offered members a great opportunity to get together and focus solely on these issues.) At the same time, we still publish newspapers and (mostly, I think) still believe in print, still love the smell of ink on paper. And we still offer our communities a great resource that they seem to cherish. The print side of our industry remains viable, and one of AAN’s most important roles going forward will be to find new ways for the association and its members to more effectively market our newspapers.

Vice President
Mark Zusman, editor, Willamette Week

1. I joined the AAN board two years ago and am one of the newer members. While I’ve been in this industry for some time, I didn’t appreciate the many ways AAN and its board of directors serve the varied interests and needs of its members.

In no particular order:

* AAN puts on a convention and conferences each year that provide its members with increasingly sophisticated tools for running our businesses.
* AAN helps fund a diversity initiative that is addressing one of the more serious shortcomings of our industry.
* AAN provides real leadership to our papers on the various ways in which we can embrace the web.
* AAN organizes marketing efforts that allow our papers to speak to major advertisers.
* AAN administers an editorial awards competition that is gaining real traction in the larger world of journalism.
* AAN helps finance and organize an annual writing and editing conference that gets rave reviews—and has now added a design and production component.
* AAN advocates in D.C. on issues that matter to our members.
* AAN runs AltWeeklies.com, an aggregator of our best stories that has been an occasional lifeline for editors and a showcase for our journalism.

Insofar as I have any wisdom to offer our association’s governing body by serving another term, I’d be honored to do so.

2. By itself, AAN cannot solve the serious issues confronting our industry. But it can provide a forum for members to wrestle with these issues. How do we develop a successful web business model? How do we clarify our editorial niches in an increasingly competitive environment? How do we deal with the shrinkage of classified advertising? And how do we install in the DNA of all of our papers the gene for innovation — which was the key to much of our early success and will undoubtedly be the solution to many of our current challenges. This ought to be AAN’s agenda for the next few years.

Francis Zankowsi, CEO and general manager, Colorado Springs Independent

1. It’s an opportunity for me to give back to the organization that has aided me in my career. In fact, I doubt I would have ever become a publisher without the support and encouragement of the membership. As Treasurer I will provide the oversight to budgeting and financial reporting necessary to keep our organization in the black.

2. We as publishers are challenged by the various new media springing up around us. From dailies spinning out faux-alts, to podcasts, blogs and social networks, we’re having to learn to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. And as an organization, we’re faced with how to keep the association’s friendly cooperative spirit alive and growing as we add new members.

Classified Advertising
Robby Robbins, director of new media, Santa Barbara Independent

1. I have enjoyed serving the AAN membership as the Classified Advertising chair. With the changing face of our industry, especially classified advertising, it has been quite a challenge to keep AAN CAN vibrant and on budget. I seek to continue my work with Roxanne, Tiffany and fellow managers from member papers to keep the network on track. By being involved with AAN CAN since its inception, and actively selling year-long contracts into the program, I find myself staunchly committed to making AAN CAN a success for us all. We have worked over the past years to regain compliance with ad publication, increase the caliber of advertisers and continue to keep member papers selling and involved in the network.

2. The challenges to AAN in my capacity are fairly straightforward. How to keep AAN CAN successful and how to meet the ever-changing programming needs for the national convention and regional conferences. The Display Advertising chair and I have already stated the process with this convention, pooling our resources to hire the best training that can speak to the needs of both segments of our industry. With my own job morphing before me, I feel I can aid in this transition and will work diligently to keep revenue flowing for the betterment of our association. AAN CAN is and will continue to be a strong source for keeping AAN alive and well.

Display Advertising
Carol Flagg, advertising director, Austin Chronicle

1. After serving two terms, I believe I can give more value back to the membership today than when I was first elected four years ago. Interacting with advertising directors and publishers through committees and conferences has deepened my understanding of the challenges faced by our papers in communities across North America. I am not just one ad director at one paper in one market. Instead, I feel connected to all in our industry who oversee the day-to-day effort of bringing revenue through the door. It is this connection that motivates me to seek a third term and perform my duties with a greater sense of responsibility and purpose.

2. Without a doubt, engaging the 18-to-34 year old reader is the biggest challenge we face. If a big part of the answer to keeping a hold on this reader lies online through user-generated content, blogs, forums, citizen journalism, promotion of AltWeeklies.com, bookmarking sites, etc., then we must do two things: grow our online audiences as quickly as possible and leave no stone unturned in our efforts to monetize our websites.

Patricia Calhoun, editor, Westword

1. Even as the alt-weekly industry evolves, it’s important to remember that at its heart lies our ability to tell the truth, and tell those true stories with such style that reading does not become a lost art.

2. Providing tools to help our members evolve with the alt-weekly industry — and at the same time protect the journalistic heart of our franchise.

First Amendment
Tim Redmond, editor, San Francisco Bay Guardian

1. In my years as First Amendment chair, I have worked closely with Richard and helped bring AAN into a growing coalition of journalism groups working on open goverment and First Amendment issues, and we’ve joined in numerous legal actions. I will continue to be an advocate for free speech, free press and open government. Just as important, I also see myself as an advocate for the smaller and independent papers, and if I’m re-elected I will continue to work hard to mentor, encourage and support the papers that aren’t part of a large chain.

2. The entire industry is changing, fast, and AAN needs to help our members change with it. One of my biggest concerns is the consolidation of media ownership, both inside and outside AAN, and I think this organization has to fight for media independence. We also need to remain on the forefront of local and national battles over access to public records and free speech. And we need to figure out how we’re going to finance this organization if our current AAN CAN revenue dips. With my experience on the board, I hope I can help with all of those issues.

Organization and Bylaws
Bill Bleakley, publisher, Oklahoma Gazette

1. After serving on the Board of Directors for three years, I’ve great appreciation for the challenges in governing and administering a national organization with the complexity of AAN. By the nature of our member newspapers, the organization must serve a broad spectrum of member needs and interests. Whether a fledgling independent in an emerging market or an established chain publication in a major market, each member publication must be provided AAN services and programming that are of value.

I’m proud of the contributions that the AAN staff and board are making to alternative journalism and wish to continue to be service as a board member to further our industry and profession.

2. Internally, we face the challenges I discussed above. We must maintain and foster the historic vitality our organization enjoys and successfully respond to the increasing diversity of our members’ business models and their need for a national association.

Externally, we must learn how to take alternative journalism into the new media while maintaining the financial integrity of our print products. Our association must actively support its members in developing the tools and expertise to effectively compete in an information and advertising world that is rapidly fragmenting.

Mark Bartel, publisher, City Pages

1. I am running for re-election to the AAN Board because we have a lot of work to do, continuously pushing new development ideas to our members — especially for the web. If we all don’t stay relevant with our internet products, both in content and sales packages, it will become increasingly difficult for members to provide value to clients and grow revenue through direct sales on the web. In Minneapolis we have steadily grown revenue on our website for several years now. With a position on the AAN board, I’m hoping to use that experience to help small markets develop new revenue sources, and larger markets to continue growing. I am currently serving on both the AAN Retail and Marketing committees, which have both provided great experience to do this job. These committees specifically focus on the future of AAN, and the web better be a significant part of that future. Finally, as a former AAN Treasurer I can help keep a lid on Karpel’s out of control spending.

2. Overall the biggest problem facing AAN is staying relevant. Yeah, we all know that, but what to do about it? I’ve focused this concern in my previous comments, but it is bigger than just having an internet product. We will have to grow quickly as multimedia companies, constantly working on partnerships in our local markets to strengthen our brand and relationships so they are harder to take away. Competition locally is fierce, and beyond that we can expect our biggest threats of the future to come from giant internet companies who will become much better at providing and searching local content in our markets than we are. We have to be much better on the web to even compete into the future, but we also have something they don’t and won’t: great weekly print editions on every corner. We had better make sure every issue is as cool editorially and visually as we “think” it is. We are more magazine than newspaper and we should be thinking that way in presentation. And are you thinking about texting content to “readers” yet?

Jeff Lawrence, owner and publisher, Boston’s Weekly Dig

1. Anyone who knows me understands just how incredibly passionate I am for my paper and our industry. I believe that my ability to contribute to the organization, through both a leadership role and Board member, is fueled by this passion and will subsequently bring fresh new insights and ideas to AAN. In addition, while I may not be the youngest owner anymore, I do represent a new face for AAN and feel that it’s important for the ideas that come with me and my peers be represented on the board as much as possible.

2. There are many important issues facing AAN these days: loss of core readership, new media challenges, a changing ad world, etc. While they’re all important, the one that resonates the most with me, and encompasses a little bit of all our concerns, is staying relevant. Whether it’s the online model, adult ads, or events and marketing, we have to as an industry stay relevant in the eyes of both our readers and advertisers. To lose sight of that would be irresponsible.