Admissions Committee Blesses Only One

Also questions three and passes on 10

The 2002 Admissions Committee was, to put it mildly, worse than disappointed by this year’s crop of 14 papers applying for AAN membership. The economy is clearly pounding small publications, and publishers continue to trip over the line between alternative journalism and community newspapering, giving us a discouragingly spare and misguided pool of AAN wannabes.

The committee, which deliberated on Wednesday, May 29, gives a strong thumbs-up to only one applying publication, Creative Loafing out of Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Editor’s Note: This paper is no longer part of the Creative Loafing chain and since applying for membership has changed its name to MetroBEAT.)

Three contenders -– High Plains Reader from Fargo, North Dakota; Oregon’s Portland Mercury; and perennial applicant Our City from Clarksville, Tennessee -– were judged too close to call. The remaining 10 applying papers suffer from a wide variety of ills and did not meet the committee’s standards for recommendation.

The Admissions Committee screens and evaluates papers for AAN membership, but doesn’t have the final say. The fate of the applying papers will be decided, by secret ballot, at this year’s annual membership meeting, on Saturday, June 1, in Madison, Wis.

Let ’em in
Only one applying paper met all the committee’s standards: professional quality, local commitment, broad cultural coverage, and alternative perspective.

Creative Loafing-Greenville (now known as MetroBEAT)
8 yes; 2 no (Sioux Watson recused for market conflict). The committee recommends in favor of admission.

This weekly has all the elements of an alternative paper and is clearly in touch with its community’s culture. A bit formulaic and somewhat lacking in soul and enterprise, but impressively comprehensive for the size of its market.

Committee comments:“Very competently edited, with an excellent story mix. Arts coverage is almost flawless for a paper of this size in a community the size of Greenville. Clearly, this CL is hitting on all cylinders. Excellent dining reviews. Listings are about as comprehensive and as well presented as I’ve ever seen in a paper this size.” • “Critic Clint Casey on Donna the Buffalo wrote: ‘Even if you’re not sure you’re ready to wax Bohemian and join the Herd just yet, it’s certainly worth giving the groove a chance to try to convert you.’ That should be worth a demerit.” • “The publication knows how to pick a fair-to-good story and make a centerpiece out of it: race and justice, the lotto, Southern music hits the mainstream, etc. There’s a certain amount of passion detectable, especially when the subject is Southern culture or Southern music.” • “A pretty formulaic alt paper, but not bad. Like most of this year’s group, it’s badly lacking in enterprise/investigative reporting.” • “They’re trying to stay on top of things with their news stories in the front. But the back of the book is often too puffy and/or uninspired.” • “Chock full of real news, despite its modest size, this Creative Loafing is as fine a little (under 48 pages) paper as I’ve seen in a long while. Neat, clean design, thorough well-presented listings and arts coverage, and lively writing throughout. While it’s a little too predictably liberal in spots for my taste (in South Carolina, of all places; go figger), the editorial voice of this paper is as clear as a bell. Well done.”

Ready or not
Three papers have what it takes . . . or perhaps they don’t. The committee could not reach consensus on the AANworthiness of these weeklies and opted to leave the decision to the membership without recommendation. These publications are on the cusp and should be taken seriously.

High Plains Reader, Fargo, North Dakota
6 yes; 5 no. The committee is undecided.

An admirable effort, given the limited scope of its market. The committee was impressed by the obvious sincerity of this paper but felt it needs more enterprising news stories, better writing, and more critical arts coverage.

Committee comments:“A promising effort. The cover stories were surprisingly interesting, with solid, if unremarkable, reporting and competent writing. But the breadth, in both news and arts coverage, seems lacking. A couple of more reporters with 12 more pages to fill will make a big difference for this paper.” • “The badly-written Internet column contains some good stuff. Columnist Ed Raymond seems to be a professional writer, but he’s a one-man show.” • “Good weekly column by the publisher. Well-produced product with a small staff. Reviews are capable, even if a bit overlong.” • “The writing isn’t strong, and there’s not much sense of the city. Too much national opinion stuff and not enough local reporting. Music is an afterthought, at best, and poorly done.” • “No news features to speak of and lots of bad writing.” • “This is still more of an entertainment magazine than anything else.” • “Needs to develop more — too small to judge.” • “This paper is mostly columns, some are okay (the Ed Raymond column has a strong personality and the ‘Tales of Racism’ was a good use of public records), but no real sense of what’s going on in Fargo. Isn’t there any news?”

Our City, Clarksville, Tennessee
6 yes; 5 no. The committee is undecided.

They’ve got spunk in Clarksville. Year after year, they’ve applied. This time, we saw greatly improved news and features. The committee is still bothered by the blatant boosterism often running in the background but recognizes that the staff has made great strides toward professionalism.

Committee comments:“Significantly improved from last year, when fundamental reporting competence was an issue. Smart, opinionated arts writing. Overall, this paper shows interesting design flair.” • “Articles like the puff piece on the EDC’s Clarksville promo packet are lame and boosterish. No investigative anything. Editorials are weak. Given the proximity to Nashville, you’d think there would be more and better music coverage.” • “High marks for daring to do a Best and Worst survey.” • “I was ready to hate this one but ended up really liking it. The sections/columns are inventive (they haven’t just copied a lot of other papers) and it makes the town seem really lively (which it probably isn’t).” • “Greatly improved — extremely good looking and more coherent than in previous years. On the other hand, they can report on an economic-development promotional package that includes a Monkees CD with a straight face, suggesting the editorial staff hasn’t quite turned the corner from boosterism. Clarksville doesn’t sound like a very hip place, but that doesn’t mean you have to take the local dinner theater seriously.” • “A solid, noble attempt to cover as many bases in Clarksville, as possible. The [arts] staff makes the most of limited Clarksville offerings. The writing is well informed and current.”

Portland Mercury, Portland, Oregon
5 yes; 5 no (Audrey van Buskirk recused for market conflict). The committee is undecided.

It’s all about attitude. One news story does not a newspaper make. This sister publication to Seattle’s The Stranger is funny, entertaining, and well written, but the commitment to covering local news seems halfhearted.

Committee comments:“Last year, the Mercury showed nothing but attitude and cynicism, and it’s improved. But the news is still thin and doesn’t demonstrate much initiative. Music and film is solid, with signs of intelligence. But there’s not much beyond music and film.” • “Okay, so now they seem to be devoting a whole page and a full-time staffer to local news coverage. And they do what they do on that page reasonably well. Nobody does band/music coverage any better than these guys. They’re considerably weaker in the ‘traditional’ arts, however, with apparently limited ‘range.’ ‘Week in Review’ is a hoot, and there’s occasional brilliance, but as I said here last year, ‘lots of sizzle but not a whole lot of steak.’ Again, a four-ounce filet, at best.” • “ ‘Bad writer of the week’ is smart and hilarious and the tone set there is consistent through the rest of the paper.” • “Caters well to the expected lefty-quasi-anarcho contingent.” • “Boxed feature on the Mercury’s Worst Writer of the Week! — wow, that’s really out there. But how about just editing the bad writing out of your publication and instead devote more time to giving your readers some more information?” • “This paper can not possibly have any reader over the age of 35 — but that’s okay! The gratuitous and repeated use of fuck, fuckable, and fucking is funny for two minutes, then it’s stupid.” • “This smart, bratty paper is targeting young readers who are mainly interested in music, film, and sex. It has more news than before, but still lacks any sort of earnest agenda. It is definitely ‘alternative,’ but perhaps too nihilistic and self-referential.” • “Definitely torn here. An enjoyable paper — a clip-’n’-save/mail-to-a-friend alternative, but still no honest attempt at news coverage.” • “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still am not sure if a cross between The Onion and a real newspaper is what AAN is all about.”

Not this year
The committee found the following papers to be deficient, immature, or, in some cases, high-quality publications that don’t fit the AAN profile. Community newspapers -– even respectable ones –- are not us.

City Pulse, Lansing, Michigan
4 yes; 7 no. The committee recommends against admission.

A good effort from a paper in its first year, but the line between editorial and advertising needs to be more clearly drawn. A Valentine’s cover directing readers to a personals-ad promo plus a column by advertiser Melody Angel MD gave the committee pause.

Committee comments:“Quite impressive, considering City Pulse’s youth (23 issues as of February, ’02). Obviously, the guys doing this have done this before, and they manage to cram a lot of worthwhile info, on both the news and arts side, into what is obviously, at this stage, a tiny news hole. Limited resources, most likely, keep them from doing a better job with hard news just yet.” • “There are some community-newspaper aspects here, and they should go, but there’s some honest risk-taking in evidence and their obvious dedication to the arts is a big plus.” • “Alas, we must praise them more for covering the arts than for the quality of that coverage — shallow critiques. There are stupid typos: a “rebel rouser” transgender activist. The conservative anti-stalking Internet column is reactionary daily shit, and Melody Angel MD is both columnist and advertiser.” • “Aggressive reporting on city politics. Decision to publish transgender feature package took balls, or at least a close facsimile thereof. The arts coverage in this paper is exemplary — comprehensive, intelligent and opinionated.” • “Obviously, there are people here who know how to write and edit; unusually high quality for a small-market start-up. I could see these guys making some real editorial waves over the next year or two.”

Pique Newsmagazine, Whistler, British Columbia
4 yes; 7 no. The committee recommends against admission.

Well-written and comprehensive, but ultimately a highly-refined community newspaper. Clearly it serves its market well, but its coverage lacks an alternative perspective. Fish or fowl? Anti-development features mixed with non-critical chamber-of-commerce blowjobs and light community-interest write-ups. Very professional, but in terms of what it covers, it doesn’t fit AAN.

Committee comments:“Clearly and cleanly written, although without much elegance.” • “Strong emphasis on news. Cover stories that focus on other resort towns seem relevant, even if comparisons aren’t made directly. I’ve got to give them credit for actually reporting the news, instead of merely commenting on it.” • “This is comprehensive and thoroughly professional, and, obviously, the ‘real’ news source for the Whistler community, touching as it does on virtually every aspect of life there. The writing is balanced, broad-minded, and thorough.” • “The staff knows the pressure points and forces of a resort town. If winter sports is an art, Pique has it covered. And the paper does an admirable job of covering all the arts that rich resort people usually hold dear.” • “This one’s a tough call, even by my standards. More of a community paper than an alt-weekly. Still, there’s a clear commitment to news, and some (limited) political awareness, esp. of urban and regional planning issues.” • “Is it my imagination, or is everything about skiing?” • “A promising community weekly. Competent reporting and decent writing, although nothing especially good.” • “They seem to have succeeded in producing a thoughtful, balanced editorial product in a community where the business pressures to be pro-development must be enormous.” • “God, the prose is dull. A highly intelligent community newspaper written with all the verve of a doctoral thesis. One might say the prose is lugubrious. ‘Transit Ridership Up!’ ” • “Coverage of local topics seems comprehensive but the writing alternates between convoluted and dull.” • “Good paper, just need reassurance that this is an alternative paper and not mainstream — its virtually a weekly paper of record. Well written, large, extensive news hole, good depth of arts coverage. A must-read in Whistler.”

The Source, Bend, Oregon
4 yes; 7 no. The committee recommends against admission.

The committee has seen this ski-town paper several times and wishes it could report more improvement. Alas, the commitment to hard news remains peripatetic.

Committee comments:“Obviously, these guys are progressive advocates in their community, as the overall tone and story selections suggest. They tackle the issues, but . . . with questionable journalistic skills. They do competent work covering the local music/cultural scenes, which must be modest.” • “Minimal news reporting. Couldn’t they find something more interesting to write about than leash laws? Does anything ever happen in Bend?” • “What’s with the rant by some anti-condom asshole?” • “I’m disappointed that this paper hasn’t improved much over the last few years. Local arts coverage is particularly disappointing, lacking both breadth and depth. Only one significant news story appeared in the three issues reviewed.” • “So much improvement in some areas, yet overall a less professional paper than it was when it was mostly about skiing. It’s more mature, but needs professional reporting.” • “These guys are tackling some big issues (power plants, transportation), and they seem in touch with the art scene.” • “Still needs stronger news writing.”

Boston’s Weekly Dig, Boston, Massachusetts
3 yes; 7 no (Clif Garboden recused for market conflict). The committee recommends against admission.

Boys, beer, and boobs remain the thrust of this arts-heavy weekly. There’s evidence of some serious effort to incorporate news into the mix, but not enough to make the committee comfortable. Great music and entertainment writing but an incomplete package.

Committee comments:“Clearly, the Weekly Dig is an arts-and-entertainment journal, and a fairly competent one at that. But unless we want to start admitting a whole range of papers like this, we have no recourse but to continue saying ‘no, thanks’ to this one.” • “This is a music paper, and it does music pretty well, although some of the writing is still pretty puerile and unprofessional.” • “Makes a great back-of-the-book read. Too bad they forgot about the front of the book.” • “Transgressive fun in abundance. Noteworthy effort to cover arts as news.” • “The very first thing I read in this paper was the paper-sponsored ‘Devil Girl G-string Contest,’ which is stupid. It would turn off most thinking women reading the paper.” • “Fine, acerbic writing in many places. Great source of information for the student and club set. Honest, humorous evaluations on music, live music, alcohol, books, movies and art.” • “Writing can be a tad sophomoric, but, hey, the primary audience appears to be (college) sophomores, so it’s probably only right.” • “It’s a great read, has a good look, and it’s enjoyable. But it simply doesn’t venture outside its coveted club/youth demographic enough to become a community and alternative voice.”

Maui Time, Lahaina, Hawaii
3 yes; 8 no. The committee recommends against admission.

You’ve got to admire a Hawaiian paper that puts dengue fever on its cover. This is clearly a paper with a future, but it lacks professional reporting and editorial direction. The glass is half full, not half empty, but there’s still lots of work to be done.

Committee comments:“A huge improvement over last year’s all-surfers, all-the-time editions. Some actual news, some community issues.” • “This paper certainly does get across a sense of the local community in its coverage of beaches and Hawaiian music.” • “Much improved over last year. Tackling real community issues now, although I’m not sure how much probing, still, is going on.” • “The writing is still somewhat pedestrian, although, overall, the editorial quality-bar has been raised. The dengue fever story was thorough and informative, for example, but not particularly gripping; not much more here than what you could find at Where are the local voices?” • “I give a lot of credit to a paper in a tourist town that opposes tourist development and does covers on such tourist-scaring topics as dengue fever (good cover, horrible story.)” • “The improvement is tremendous. The paper now has news, and the issues it tackles bespeak a good grasp of local issues. But the articles read like encyclopedia entries or term papers, not news features. Maui Time has news; now it needs reporting.”

Omaha Weekly, Omaha, Nebraska
3 yes; 8 no. The committee recommends against admission.

For the second year in a row, the Omaha Weekly handily takes the Ugliest Newspaper on Earth Award. One could excuse the layout, but that would mean wading into shallow waters. The paper’s news coverage leaves much to be desired.

Committee comments:“Arts coverage is impressively comprehensive, and it makes Omaha seem like a surprisingly lively place. Since all of the advances are gushing, it’s hard to discern a strong sensibility guiding the [arts] coverage. Nevertheless, characterizations of A&E events are apt and useful.” • “ ‘Media Watch’ column is decent and clearly, the staff makes a serious attempt to cover news on page 2. But that’s all you get: bits and pieces. Seem to do an excellent job covering what appears to be a limited art scene.” • “Nothing resembling a full-blown hard-news piece. Writing is extremely uneven, and occasionally cornball (oops, bad choice of words for Omaha), suggesting weak editorial direction.” • “One or two mediocre stories and a lot of community-paper-style stuff. Far more arts than news, but poor writing and relatively hype-heavy. In listings, no descriptions of events, limited info. The format is abominable, unpleasant to read.” • “The only in-depth cover story gave a local political candidate a blow job.” • “There’s not much news coverage, and what there is dull and lacks perspective. Suffers from poor proofing. The format is horrible, jumbled, childish, unprofessional, and almost unreadable.” • “The weird format makes this paper hard to get into — and once you get there, there’s not a lot to reward you.” • “Improved from last year, but the lack of enterprising reporting, the lack of strong feature writing, and the lack of ambitious news editing make it a weak applicant for membership in AAN.” • “This paper has achieved what may be the most irritating dysfunctional design ever. And there’s no proofreading — words are missing throughout. This paper is all about ads, which overwhelm the editorial. Nothing serious going on here.” • “It’s nearly impossible to read, I can’t follow the stories through their jumps, and they’re not interesting enough to make me want to. Is there really news in here? I can’t find it.” • “Why can’t these guys just do a newspaper, for God’s sake, rather than something that looks, reads and feels like a driveway shopper? Only difference is that the edit filler is locally generated rather than syndicated garbage.”

Prairie Dog Magazine, Regina, Saskatchewan
3 yes; 8 no. The committee recommends against admission.

A good-enough read, but you don’t get much sense of place. Poor cover-story choice and a lack of hard news or coverage of anything that’s important to Regina. Needs to get its finger on the pulse of the city.

Committee comments:“Decent, if limited, provincial and national coverage, mixed with some intelligent political reporting. For a small paper, fairly well-written and insightful.” • “Good writing and editing — even the food column and supplement thumb-suckers. The medical-pot story was solid.” • “It’s good the paper has a national and even international conscience, and the writing is good. It’s obvious the staff keeps an eye out for national scene trends in art and music.” • “Some of the news briefs cry for a longer story such as the Saskatoon police dumping an aboriginal man on the outskirts of the city in the middle of January with the observation that this “has focused public attention on the tension between the province’s aboriginal community and police, particularly in light of the discovery of two native men found frozen to death on the outskirts of Saskatoon last year.” So why was The Lord of the Rings the cover story rather than an investigation into what sounds like a really good story?” • “The covers are at least presentable (if horridly printed), but the internal design is a complete mess.” • “Features are well written, but often soft. Movie criticism, which I enjoyed, is all perspective and analysis, but lack specifics — as if the reviewer hadn’t actually seen the film. Same with books: it’s like reporting on art instead of criticizing it.” • “This paper looks good, reads bad, overpromises and underdelivers. Instead of focusing on local news, people, and culture, it is centered on national stuff and uses too many syndicated columnists.” • “Prairie Dog is a canned newspaper with very little local content.” • “The faults in content are well masked by good writing and editing. Arts coverage leans toward reporting and not criticism. Low on content but high on respectable style.” • “Looks good, often reads well. But is it really a mirror on Regina? Get the editorial staff out of the office door and into the community.”

Independent Florida Sun, Pensacola, Florida
2 yes; 9 no. The committee recommends against admission.

Generally speaking, Republicans are too constipated to publish alternative papers, which makes this applicant from Florida’s Redneck Riviera all the more perplexing. There’s some honest journalism here mixed in with a lot of pandering to the military, the religious right, and the Bushes. This is owed to the paper’s still-published publisher emeritus, former First District Florida Republican congressman Joe Scarborough — something of a maverick (by GOP standards) whose political record includes participation in the 1997 anti-Gingrich coup, a 0% voter-record rating from the ACLU (no flag-burning, please), a speaking appearance at a Free Tibet rally, an active role in the 2000 election debacle, and a campaign to shut down the School of the Americas. A mixed bag, like the paper he founded. Interesting, but not madly us.

Committee comments:“The right-wing church columnist has no place in AAN. Nor does the lawn-service guy writing a yard-care column. Nor does a straight-faced society column. Nor do reviews of high-school plays. Nor does a puff piece on a Christian dance studio.” • “The ‘From the Pub’ page from founding publisher/former congressman Joe Scarborough suggests what might have happened to the Bay Guardian had Bruce Brugman become a right-wing loony. Juxtaposing Maureen Dowd and this mad Baptist preacher Chuck Baldwin on the same page is certainly an intriguing approach to the First Amendment.” • “It’s not a typical alt-weekly. More like a vanity press for a smart, ambitious, and potentially dangerous cabal.” • “The investigative reporting on the county commission and on radioactive water was encouraging — not done perfectly, but at least it was done, and it’s refreshing to see at least one of this year’s applicants doing something that the alternative press built its reputation on.” • “There’s a lot of God-related stuff, and the editorial on the Marine Corps Relief Society was an embarrassment.” • “One of the weirder amalgams; sort of what you might expect if Hunter S. Thompson had become a far-right Gingrichite congressman, which is exactly what the founding publisher of IFS did, in 1994. There’s energy and considerable wit throughout. Almost a throwback; IFS reminds me of a late-19th-century muckraking daily, back when publisher/editors wore their hearts on their sleeves. In this case, Citizen Kane’s heart is on the right side of his chest.” • “All the God-and flag shit disturbs me.” • “This paper scares me. From the patriotic publisher’s note praising the Super Bowl — signed Joe — I had a bad feeling. Not only is it weirdly right wing, it’s almost impossible to figure out who wrote what — Ari Fleischer? The content is certainly not ‘alternative.’ Fudge recipes. A ‘being there’ at a Christian dance studio. A full-page letter from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society bumped up to 16-point type. And a society column.” • “Now we know why Bush eventually won Florida in 2000.” • “The community this paper serves is obviously fucked up, and the publishers are obviously okay with that.”

Reader Weekly, Duluth, Minnesota
2 yes; 9 no. The committee recommends against admission.

Possibly the highest edit-to-ad ratio in North America. A “public-access” paper, with gobs of lightly edited material contributed from amateurs — with predictable results.

Committee comments:“Barb Olsen’s city council column is refreshingly relentless — no doubt just the level of scrutiny the councilpeople deserve and don’t welcome. Movie shorts are a good mix of description and critique. There’s certainly a lot of copy.” • “Spirited, to say the least. And occasionally, there’s even an actual news story, proving that blind hogs can indeed find acorns once in a while.” • “Full of filler. Lots of opinion, but not much reporting.” • “Waaaaay too many syndicated columns and features.” • “Enough, already; call the language police, immediately. Plenty of quantity, whatever about quality.” • “Too much opinion and not enough reporting. Lots of syndicated columns. In fact, lots of material picked up from elsewhere. Contains the worst music writing ever published.” • “Free speech is great, except when it empowers a bunch of blowhards.” • “If there are any fascists out there looking for a State Exhibit A indicator that a free press is a menace to society, Reader Weekly might be a prime candidate.” • “The more I read, the more I hate this paper. Some choice quotes: ‘More or less a internal project that started for own gratification eventually gathered a following and a demand by some to be released.’ ‘80’s [sic] melodic influences seem to best sum up the disc.’ ‘Creed took the bulls by the horns and didn’t back down.’ ” • “They let politicians and others write own copy. Terribly edited. I just don’t get it.”

Our dead bodies . . .
Somebody always gets the booby prize.

Beverly Hills Weekly, Beverly Hills, California.
0 yes; 44 no. The committee recommends this paper be taken out back and shot.

In 2001, our 11-member committee rejected this paper with a 22-0 vote against admission. Apparently that wasn’t a strong enough message. This abomination of a publication applied again. And once again, the committee found the Beverly Hills Weekly to be beneath contempt — a poor community newspaper full of plugs for advertisers and pretty much the antithesis of AAN’s core values. Ugly and irrelevant. Committee comments:“They’re terrible. They need to turn this into a paper, and if it takes them an incredible amount of time and effort over the next year to do so, then they may not have time to apply for AAN admission again. And I could live with that.” • “Where to begin? The consumer-affairs editor who is really the write-nice-things-about-advertisers editor is embarrassing. How can this paper think it belongs in AAN?” • “ I refuse ever to review this paper again unless a known alternative publisher submits a letter of recommendation.” • “Reporting is limited to the basics, and the writing is so bad it makes AP wire copy sound musical in comparison. A&E coverage is so limited it doesn’t even warrant comment.” • “Ack. Terrible story selection and layout, columns by local ‘experts’ (not writers).” • “Get this paper out of our face, okay? The publishers may be ‘committed to aggressive neutral reporting’ and to representing Beverly Hills’ ‘alternative underbelly,’ and to ‘exposing closet issues and uncovering corruption,’ but the paper does none of these things — instead giving us features on ligament disorders in dogs and puffy, self-promoting columns from their advertisers. It’s difficult to imagine a paper that could suck more.” • “They got the pages in order.”

The 2002 AAN Admissions Committee members are Clif Garboden (chair), Boston Phoenix, Bill Chapman, C-Ville Weekly, Margaret Downing, Houston Press, Ben Fulton, Salt Lake City Weekly, Matt Gibson, Missoula Independent, Ken Neill, Memphis Flyer, Paula Routly, Seven Days, Tim Redmond, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Audrey van Buskirk, Seattle Weekly, Sioux Watson, Independent Weekly, and Fran Zankowski, NewMass Media.