CONVENTION: Membership Committee Recommendations

Down By Bylaw

The Best

The Beat – Greenville, SC
The Vote: 6 yea, 3 nay
The Committee recommends for membership.

“The work of editor and publisher James Shannon shines” in this paper — and no wonder, he’s the former editor of MetroBeat. “Shannon clearly knows what he’s doing, producing his usual tight editorial package and writing a mean politics column.” “The news component makes an honest attempt to identify and expose malfeasance.” The Beat’s not perfect, though. “Features, even those dealing with loaded topics, appear to be more investigative than they are.” And, with the exception of the film critic, more attention should be paid to the arts and lifestyle writing, and the paper’s overall packaging. We liked the covers, but “For God’s sake, throw us some subheads!” Conclusion: “a bit lopsided in its makeup, but what it does well, it does very well for its size.”

Port Folio Weekly – Norfolk, VA
The Vote: 6 yea, 3 nay
The Committee recommends for membership.

This paper is owned by a daily that operates in the same market. Landmark Communications also owns Style Weekly in nearby Richmond, which was admitted to AAN last year. Landmark is a privately held company that owns major dailies in Norfolk and two other markets as well as over 50 smaller dailies and weeklies around the South. Among its numerous other media properties are two television stations and, most famously, the Weather Channel. The relationship of Port Folio to its corporate parents bothered some members of the committee who felt it violated the spirit of the bylaws (see Section 6 below), but a majority felt the product spoke for itself. “Strong on news and features — professionally done and with good politics.”

“It may not be the edgiest paper ever, but it does seem to have a left-leaning sensibility and takes a thoughtful approach to doing what it does.” Particularly enterprising was a story on labor conditions at a regional Smithfield slaughterhouse. “Plus, they actually do anti-war demo coverage, suggesting they have an alt audience.” Pat Buchanan may be one of too many syndicated columnists, but, thanks to editor Tom Robotham, this paper feels a lot more local than it used to.

The Rest

Independent Weekly – Lafayette, LA
The Vote: 4 yea, 5 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

“This is a difficult paper to judge this year. … All three issues are devoted to follow-ups about Hurricane Katrina which, of course, was a huge, life-changing event for that portion of the Gulf Coast.” The well-designed Independent may have responded to the disaster “with more speed and efficacy than FEMA.” But the result — alas — is disappointing. “For an allegedly alt paper, their week of hurricane coverage was nothing but mainstream — not a controversy in sight.” “It doesn’t delve as deeply or aggressively into its stories as I’d like it to.” Unique, post-Katrina circumstances may explain the shortage of arts and lifestyle coverage in the three issues provided. The committee would have liked to see what the Independent looks like on a “normal” week — and encourages AAN members to do so here in Little Rock. “Why didn’t they use their ‘wild card’ issue to send us one of the ‘scathing investigative reports’ their application suggests they do, instead of the 9/5 issue?” The conclusion: “We can’t admit this paper to AAN just because they had a hurricane, and, judging from what we were sent, it’s difficult to know what the paper would have been like without Katrina. … Nitpicking when people are drowning hardly seems sporting. But follow-up coverage should have more perspective.”

The Pulse – Chattanooga, TN
The Vote: 4 yea, 5 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

This paper definitely gets the “Much Improved Award.” It’s “on course,” “getting closer” and “moving in the right direction” but isn’t quite there yet. So … “do you judge The Pulse by its noble courageous ambitions – clearly visible throughout the paper — or by the flawed, dollar-limited execution?” The same committee members who praised the arts coverage and several regular columns — not the fashion one; please lose that thing — noted the paper’s “universal sloppy editing,” from an abundance of typos to a lack of reportorial rigor: one story about a last-minute land swap between the area’s middle and high schools, for example, failed to quote any students or parents.

“Reading this publication feels like an exercise in connecting the dots. Shorter pieces need more forethought before sitting down to the keyboard. Longer pieces read like endurance tests, and the inventive spirit of some very well written captions needs to be carried over to headline writing, and, most especially, cover design.” The conclusion: “A good paper in need of some technical rigors.” Come back next year.

Yes! Weekly – Greensboro, NC
The Vote: 3 yea, 6 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

The hometown porn-star story certainly caught everyone’s attention. But it “didn’t have much information at all and even though the adult film star offered to take off her outer clothes … all we see is her in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. That doesn’t seem very edgy. Have more fun!” A somewhat “schizophrenic” effort, one-year-old Yes! looks to be a cross between an alt weekly and a com-munity newspaper. Ann Coulter’s column is a regular feature. “Some writing isn’t bad at all, but you have to question editorial decisions that seem hell-bent on making you groan. It’s not that I loathe Ann Coulter so much, either.” But the “relentless typos,” the stories attributed to “from a press release” and over-reliance on first-person reporting have got to go. A could-have-been-excellent follow-up to the 1979 killings that resulted from a clash between the Klan and Communist Party counter-demonstrators failed to fill in the back story.

Perhaps the quality of the “publisher’s statement” is an indication of the editorial standards here, and Charles Womack, who lists himself as 100 percent owner and publisher, belongs to a family that owns a chain of daily and weekly newspapers. “When will people realize that it’s just not acceptable to send a practically illegible handwritten mess as your application for a media organization?” Next year? The conclusion: Yes! Weekly? Maybe no.”

City Paper – Toledo, OH
The Vote: 3 yea, 6 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

“When you have to resort to your minor-league baseball team’s attendance success for a cover story, either you or your city has a problem.” City Paper has some work to do before it qualifies as Toledo’s much-needed AAN paper. “On many levels, this paper needs to find a way to make its content more engaging before it can win readers’ valuable attention.” “It’s locally oriented for both news and arts, and there’s some good local commentary. But not much reporting, and not enough of anything to qualify it for membership, yet.” City Paper would be a great candidate for mentorship. The conclusion: Needs more seasoning.

Urban Tulsa Weekly – Tulsa, OK
The Vote: 3 yea, 6 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

A music editor in a tie? Now that’s a conservative market. We’re rooting for Urban Tulsa Weekly — and winning columnists Michael Bates and Barry Friedman — but have concerns about the stories in the rest of the paper. Readers described the prose as “meandering,” “convoluted,” “repetitive” and “dull.” “With a few exceptions every story was a slog.” “This paper needs much more attention paid to its writing and editing.” The publisher is also the editor. “It needs to interview people who don’t have vested inter-ests in the story being written about them. It needs to develop a critical sense in all of its pages.” Case in point: a theater story quotes the director of the piece saying, “It’s a wonderful show.” Conclusion: It could be a wonderful paper.

Independent News – Pensacola, FL
The Vote: 3 yea, 6 nay
The Committee declines to recommend for membership.

You’ve got to admire owner-publisher Rick Outzen’s enterprise and editorial output. He’s all over this paper — in the promising news section, anyway — “boosting a local business one minute, bashing Bush the next.” He’s also on a local city council, but says he’s stepping down in November. But Outzen can’t do it all, and the paper suffers for not having other competent contributors. “The arts coverage is universally tepid, and the ‘interview’ with Barney the dinosaur was so embarrassing I still cringe every time I think that it ran in an alt-weekly.” “If the paper can’t add staffers, then it needs to hire more good freelancers to develop more of a local voice instead of New York Times south.” “Why a columnist from the St. Pete Times? Maureen Dowd? With limited space, why ‘News of the Weird’?” The film reviews are also syndicated. Conclusion: “This paper has its eye on the ball, but some editorial choices lead to excessive head scratching.”

You Decide

Portland Mercury – Portland, OR
The Vote: 5 yea, 4 nay
The Committee is not making a recommendation.

What we celebrate about this paper is also what makes it maddening. “I love everything that’s there … if you could combine all this with a real alt news section, you’d have a stand-out publication.” “Lord knows Willamette Week is tough to beat, but give it a go.” The Mercury is smart, funny, creative, entertaining, irreverent, and gorgeous — but is it a newspaper? The front of the book is pretty much “missing in action,” and what little news there is seems to be limited to subjects such as strip clubs, bicycling and drug laws. The committee was deeply divided as to whether the Mercury plans to remedy this imbalance — would they hire a news editor, for example? — or aims to stay an excellent arts paper with tons of attitude. We can’t tell which way it’s going and encourage the members to review recent issues and talk to the Mercury staffers who are here.

City Life – Las Vegas, NV
The Vote: 4 yea, 4 nay, 1 abstention
The Committee is not making a recommendation.

No one on the committee is debating the editorial quality of City Life — it’s a compelling read from front to back, well written and edited. “A bracing read of Las Vegas that, unlike the city itself, matches form end-to-end with substance. This is a solid, conscious effort to give the city all it deserves.” But some members of the committee believe that the paper’s owner — the Stephens Media Group — is not representative of the values expressed in AAN bylaws Article One, Section 6 (see especially Bylaw 6-D [3-5]). Stephens owns the daily and other media properties in the Las Vegas market. Some of us were also disturbed by its recent acquisitions in California. Stephens has a 26 percent interest in the California Newspaper Partnership, which is controlled by Dean Singleton and is in the process of buying up many dailies and weeklies in the Bay Area – many critics say, substantially reducing media competition.


Two AAN member papers have changed hands since the last annual meeting. According to a recent amendment to the bylaws, such ownership transfers necessitate fresh evaluations by the Membership Committee. In a process guided by the same quality standard outlined in the “application” process, Membership Committee members compare issues of the paper before and after the sale. The recommendations below are advisory for the general membership, which votes on whether to affirm or reject the papers at the annual meeting.

City View – Des Moines, IA
The Vote: 10 yea, 0 nay
The Committee recommends affirmation.

City View has benefited from a graphic makeover since it was purchased by Big Green Umbrella Media last April; its news stories are harder hitting than before. That may reflect the influence of new co-owner Michael Gartner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was president of NBC News from 1988 to 1993. Now retired, he’s a local politico and publisher of community newspapers in Colorado, West Virginia and Nebraska.

Boston’s Weekly Dig – Boston, MA
The Vote: 9 yea, 0 nay, 1 recused
The Committee recommends affirmation.

Metrocorp, which owns Philadelphia and Boston magazines, appears to have had a positive impact on the Weekly Dig. The new owners have left the paper’s ‘tude intact, as evidenced by the ongoing beer coverage and frequency of the f-word. The quality of the writing and graphics is much improved from when the paper was admitted several years ago. Neither publishing company appears to violate the spirit of the bylaws section that relates to ownership standards (see Section 6-D below).

Bylaws, Article One, Section Six

This section of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies bylaws is reproduced below for reference.

SECTION 6. MEMBERSHIP PRINCIPLES. The following principles shall guide the Membership Committee and Regular membership in their consideration of new member applications, and membership affirmations as described in Section 7 below:

A. The member newspaper shall be of general interest and not a “special interest publication,” i.e. a publication with a narrow concentration on subjects including, but not exclusively, music, entertainment, religion, the environment, or a political party or organization.

B. A member newspaper shall exhibit sufficient public service through journalism and editorial distinction and excellence to merit designation as a positive editorial alternative to mainstream journalism.

C. A member newspaper shall enhance the usefulness and strengthen the character of the association.

D. The ownership of a member newspaper shall reflect and advance the values of the association including but not limited to the following:

  1. Editorial independence and integrity
  2. Ethical business practices
  3. Competitive editorial and business environment, especially within local markets
  4. A multiplicity and diversity of media voices
  5. Independence from media conglomerates or other entities deemed detrimental to the interest of the alternative press and the maintenance of media diversity.