Admissions Committee Should Come to Its Senses

I can’t hold back anymore. It’s time for me to throw my two cents into the AAN Admissions ring.

As the publisher of an applying paper (and ultimately denied paper) the last two years, I’ve become a quick expert on the admissions process. My grand and expansive opinion on the matter can easily be summed up in a few paragraphs as it’s very clear the process is seriously flawed but easily fixed. It’s an ego, popularity and ultimately antiquated system right now that focuses too much on ‘founding principles’ than on ‘market realities.’ Apply the same approach to how we market our own papers, sell advertising and produce content, and it’s easy to see why it’s so important to stay current and pay attention to the changing tides within our industry, instead of holding on tight to yesterday’s guidelines. What was ‘alternative’ in 1969 is no longer the case today. So why isn’t it the same for the admissions committee?

Paul Butler’s battle-cry letter from June also addresses some key problems that are rooted deep within the board members’ own papers. While I should recuse myself from making comments directly about any of Mr. Garboden’s statements and claims regarding the ‘integrity’ of alternative newsweeklies and journalism in general, I can’t resist to state with hard fact that his own company, the Phoenix Media Communications Group, does not practice what he preaches. We have sat across from advertisers in our shared market and have been asked point blank, ‘What kind of editorial support can you provide us should I advertise, as compared to what I receive now from The Phoenix Media Group?’ In all fairness, the PMCG does include a local bi-weekly fluff magazine called Stuff@Night that is primarily at the root of the problem since it’s been blatantly structured around ‘pay-to-play’ since day-one, but it’s still the same publisher. Ultimately we’ve worked ‘around’ this problem by simply explaining that we try to cover everyone, at some point, good or bad, and we usually land the advertiser, but it doesn’t change what is fact. This leads to the gravest of concerns regarding the admissions criteria.

Simply put, and again Butler did a great job of pointing this out as well, there are dozens and dozens of papers that do not meet the criteria set forth. You simply cannot expect applying papers to accept denial when they can easily see that current members do not all adhere to these so-called principles. Whether this took place after they were admitted, or before, is not important. What is important is that I thumbed through all the papers present at the most recent convention and most of them simply weren’t alternative, nor did they have a heavy dose of what is described as ‘alternative news.’ Those that were alternative, often used entertainment stories as their lead feature, something we have been criticized for. Even the venerable Boston Phoenix recently had as its top-half feature-cover-highlight dedicated to ‘Hard Rock Rules.’ We loved it — but it wouldn’t have impressed the current admissions committee, that’s for sure.

AAN needs to address this issue seriously. Stop making jokes and have an honest discussion amongst yourselves, and while you’re at it, hold your own paper up to the standards asked of the applying papers. You might be surprised.

It would be nice if the process made better sense in general and was something the organization as a whole could be proud of. I’ll be back in Pittsburgh, as an applying paper, and one day we’ll be a member on our own terms, I’m sure of it. We will however, as an example, always cover music heavily because the 18-34 demographic you all seek demands it, and eventually most of you will finally ‘get it’ and come to your senses before the last hippie leaves the room and turns off the lights.

Jeff Lawrence, Publisher, Boston’s Weekly Dig
“Best Little Paper in Boston”