AAN President: State of the Association

Board Determined to Use AAN CAN Revenues for Member Service and Outreach Draft of AAN Board President Clif Garboden’s speech delivered to the 2004 members meeting of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. I didn’t know what to expect when I became AAN president, but one of the first things we decided to do was hold another long-range planning session — which we did in January right before AAN West. From that meeting, a very clear picture emerged of where the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies has been and where it should be going. Since we established the Washington office in 1995, our executive director has taken a fairly disorganized collection of publishers and turned it into a real — if eccentric — trade association. Under the guidance of Richard Karpel and his staff, AAN has become prosperous and fairly professional and — to fall victim to a cliché — it’s time to move forward. One of the very important things that our executive office did was streamline the convention process — so it’s no longer a nightmare to host one of these gatherings. But compared to the total number of staffers at all of our newspapers, not very many people come to the conventions — and AAN needs to start serving more of its membership in more ways. Back in 1998, when we did our last long-range planning sessions, AAN’s big worry was financial survival. For the moment, anyway, AAN CAN has us in the money, so we can start pampering ourselves a little and expand member services. Some of our ideas have been implemented already. Some were underway before the long-range planning meeting. Some are in progress. And some are as-yet un-approached.

  • Our regional-training-conference program has been expanded from the annual AAN West gathering to a second conference, AAN East, that we’ll hold in Washington each year. We did a pilot conference this February and it was very encouraging.
  • We plan to expand the aan.org Web site to include what we call “resource pages” to help members find vendors, sources and technical information online. (Haven’t actually gotten that one off the ground yet.)
  • We plan to inundate you and your staffs with outreach — pushing the AAN newsletter to more people (unless they opt to unsubscribe). The idea here is to make more staffers and editors aware of what AAN does and make as many people as possible feel connected to AAN, even if they never see a convention.
  • And some of the soft-hearted among the board instituted an “adopt a paper” program, whereby board members contacted member papers before this convention to survey opinions about AAN’s performance and compile up-to-date contact lists.
  • We’ve discussed expanding the committee structure — more committees; not all of them chaired by Board positions — as another way of involving more people in the organization and a way of providing a workforce for maintaining increased member services and projects.
  • I hope everyone’s had a chance to use the AAN story-sharing system at AltWeeklies.com. People have been asking for an easy way to buy and sell stories within AAN for years, so we decided to have the Dispatch people [at DesertNet] put together a marketplace site — based on a structure hashed out at an ad-hoc-committee meeting in New York last fall. The site is managed at the D.C. office by the truly overworked Ruth Hammond.
  • And, this year, we did something AAN hasn’t tried in years — commissioning shared editorial. Not only did Jason Vest’s report on a closely-held memo from an operative inside the Iraq Occupation get AAN lots of attention — from random blogs to Harper’s magazine — it filled a lot of news holes around the country with solid reporting . . . for free.
  • Our marketing committee, working closely with Roxanne Cooper in the national office, commissioned a major marketing survey from the Roper research group in a effort to give everybody in AAN a new pitch to use against the faux alternatives out there.
  • Oh, and did I mention the proposed bylaws changes? Those didn’t come easily.

We’ve been busy and you’re going to hear more about some of these projects from committee chairs shortly. For now, I want to thank Richard and the entire Washington staff as well as the board and all the committee volunteers who helped us get so much done so quickly. We want more people involved at the committee level and we welcome any and all ideas. AAN isn’t just the board, or the executive office, or the people who come to the conventions — it’s supposed to be there for every staffer of every member paper. Give us some help and we can make that real.

— Clif Garboden, San Antonio, June 27, 2004

P.S. Thanks to everyone who attended the convention. The “adopt a paper” program mentioned above was meant to involve all AAN papers. If, for one reason or another, your paper was not contacted by a board member and you have some feedback for us about your interest in AAN, your motivations and disincentives for participating and the relative success or shortcomings of current AAN programs, please contact Executive Director Richard Karpel, who will hook you up with a board representative for a chat.