Board Wrestles with Membership Issues

The Board of Directors’ regular pre-convention meeting was dominated this year by membership issues that required the board to delve into technical questions about the association’s bylaws.

First was the question of Cleveland Free Times and its closure in October 2002 by Village Voice Media in its controversial agreement with New Times that also shuttered New Times Los Angeles. The key question the board considered was whether there was an actual “dissolution” of the paper.

According to AAN’s bylaws: “Membership in the Association shall not be personal and shall not survive the dissolution of any member newspaper.” In the only previous instance where an AAN member paper was closed and later reopened under new ownership, the board ruled that Casco Bay Weekly had experienced dissolution and therefore was no longer a member of the association.

Although it was closed for more than seven months, Free Times resumed publishing May 21 with the same name and much of the same staff. Because the U.S. Justice Department conducted an antitrust investigation of the VVM/New Times deal and the two companies agreed to resell the assets of the closed papers, which included the names, the new owners argue that Free Times never really ceased to exist and that their AAN membership is still valid. Another issue in this case is that the majority owner of Free Times is now a small newspaper company in Pennsylvania, whose major property is a daily paper. AAN rules clearly state that a paper owned by a daily cannot apply for membership. However, AAN papers that are purchased by a daily newspaper have been allowed to stay members.

After a lengthy discussion, the board approved a motion declining “to challenge Free Times contention that their membership in the association is active.”

The board also reviewed whether Omaha Weekly Reader, created last year by a merger of AAN member Omaha Reader and non-member Omaha Weekly, would retain the Reader’s AAN membership.

At its meeting this February at AAN West, the board appointed an ad hoc committee to determine whether to initiate a termination procedure to strip the merged paper’s membership. On Thursday, the Board accepted the committee’s recommendation finding no such cause. Several AAN papers have merged with other weeklies and maintained their AAN membership. For example, last year AAN member Independent Weekly merged with non-member Spectator retained its membership. In 1997, New Times Inc. bought two AAN member papers — Los Angeles Reader and LA View — and merged them to create New Times LA, which retained membership in AAN.

To address some of the causes of these nettlesome membership issues, the Board directed the organization/bylaws committee to review the bylaws in time for potential amendments to be adopted at the 2004 annual in San Antonio.

The Board also refined a new policy stating that circulation figures published on the AAN Web site and in the print directory would be taken directly from independent audit reports. Under that refinement, gross circulation figures would be cited to normalize differences in the standards of different independent auditing organizations. In addition, directory pages of papers that are not audited will include a “not audited” citation next to the circulation numbers that they provide.

Finally, the Board also approved a $1.17 million budget that will be submitted for approval at the annual meeting Sunday, June 8; discussed Alternative Newsweekly Awards issues that were raised on the editorial listserv and will be addressed by the editorial committee; and discussed the status of the AAN CAN program.

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