Membership Application Guidelines

As the application deadline approaches for membership in AAN, we receive lots of inquiries about the membership process: How do I know if my paper is right for AAN? How do we know if we’re ready to apply? Who is on the membership committee? What criteria does the committee use to judge my paper?

The AAN bylaws state that applying papers must meet three basic criteria to even be eligible to apply for membership: They must be published at least 24 times per year; they must have operated under its current majority ownership for at least six months; and applying papers must disclose the names of all persons or entities owning at least one percent of the paper.

Papers that do not meet those three basic criteria will not be considered for admission.

According to the AAN bylaws, the organization’s Membership Committee must evaluate each paper applying for membership, and the following membership principles guide the committee as it considers each applicant:

1. Members papers must be general interest publications, as opposed to special interest publications. Applying papers should not cater solely to covering just the music scene or the arts scene, for example.

2. Editorial content should reflect an alternative approach to mainstream journalism, and according to the organization’s bylaws this should be demonstrated through “editorial distinction and excellence to merit designation as a positive editorial alternative to mainstream journalism.”

3. Members should “enhance the usefulness and strengthen the character” of AAN.

4. The ownership of member papers should “reflect and advance the values” of the association. Those values include, but are not limited to: editorial independence and integrity; ethical business practices; competitive editorial and business environment, especially within local markets; and a multiplicity and diversity of media voices.

5. Member papers should exhibit “independence from media conglomerates or other entities deemed detrimental to the interest of the alternative press.”

The Membership Committee will also evaluate applying papers’ content according to a series of subcategories, including:

News and features coverage: Does coverage offer an alternative point of view and feature subjects not likely to be covered in daily papers? Is reporting fair and does it eschew cheerleading for pet issues? Is writing professional and informed? Is coverage in-depth?

Arts coverage: Are reviewers credible and knowledgeable? Is criticism balanced and original? Does coverage avoid cheerleading or gratuitious negativism?

Listings: Are listings complete and detailed (including addresses, phone numbers, times)? Are listings independent from advertising influence? Are listings well organized?

Design: Is design attractive and effective? Is content well organized and does the design support the paper’s content?

When the Membership Committee has completed its evaluations of all applying papers, the membership chair assembles a report that makes recommendations to the AAN general membership for or against the admission of each applying paper. It’s important to note that the Membership Committee does not make the final decision on whether a paper is admitted to AAN — that decision is up to the organization’s membership, which votes on each paper’s admission at the annual AAN members meeting. The Membership Committee’s report is just a recommendation to the members regarding the merits of each paper.

If you’d like to learn more about the AAN Membership Committee or the guidelines for admission, there’s a detailed document, which includes an FAQ, available for your review.

If you’re not sure whether your paper is ready for admission to AAN, please read this document over carefully before you apply. If you decide to throw your hat in the ring, remember that Dec. 31, 2007 is the application deadline.