Taking Care of Business: AAN’s Annual Meeting

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ annual meeting fell on June 18, the final day of the 2005 convention in San Diego.

AAN News has already reported that Las Vegas Weekly, Bellingham Weekly and Style Weekly gained admission to AAN during the meeting, and that Willamette Week’s Mark Zusman, Boise Weekly’s Bingo Barnes and several incumbents won seats on the Board of Directors.

Now we’ll tell you what happened during the rest of the meeting.

First, the association’s committee chairs delivered their annual reports. Editorial Chair Patricia Calhoun of Westword spoke of the improvements made to the AltWeeklies.com Web site, and of the nascent story-syndication program in which AAN member papers receive “national-caliber stories for free.” One example is the story “Soldier’s Heart,” which many AAN papers published several months ago. She then reminded members of the upcoming Medill Writers’ Workshop, scheduled for Aug. 12-13 at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Jim Rizzi (Salt Lake City Weekly) spoke of the Marketing Committee’s steps to increase online promotion of the industry, the inclusion of more publication resources on the AAN Web site, and the association’s courting of the videogame industry.

Classified Advertising Chair Robby Robbins (Independent Weekly) indicated that AAN CAN ad volume is holding strong, with an increase in both national and regional buys. But he advised the membership to prepare for an eventual sales decrease in the program, which provides the bulk of the association’s operating revenue.

Calhoun returned to speak on behalf of Mike Lenehan (Chicago Reader), chair of the Diversity Committee. She reminded members about the four $2,500 diversity internship grants that AAN awards annually, and about the $75,000 yearly appropriation for the Academy for Alternative Journalism at the Medill School of Journalism.

Bylaws Chair and Metroland Publisher Stephen Leon (now AAN Vice President after being elected to that position later in the meeting) reminded members of the “sweeping changes in the bylaws” that were approved at last year’s annual meeting. Those changes, he said, resulted in the abolition of “the so-called daily clause,” which forbid alt-weeklies owned by daily newspapers from applying for membership.

Leon also said that his committee had discussed proposals raised during the bylaws discussion last year — to require a simple majority for the termination of members under the new admissions regime, and to conduct the termination vote via e-mail — but had decided in both cases that an adjustment to the current rules wasn’t necessary. Finally, Leon said his committee recommended a minor technical revision in the bylaws, and that revision was approved unanimously by voice vote.

Treasurer Rob Jiranek (C-Ville Weekly) reported that through the first eight months of the fiscal year, AAN’s operating plan was on target. With a healthy balance sheet and zero liabilities, “the finances of AAN are exceptionally strong,” he said.

With business winding down, Clif Garboden, AAN’s outgoing president, thanked Richard Karpel for 10 years of good service as the association’s executive director. To a standing ovation, Garboden said, “If you look at where we were 10 years ago and where we are now…getting an executive director was a good idea.” In turn, Karpel noted that Debra Silvestrin, director of meetings and special projects, has also been working at AAN for a decade, and his announcement elicited another round of applause.

Karpel also thanked Bill Towler, who he said was leaving the Board after seven years of providing a “steadying influence,” including two as the association’s President.

Ken Neill then spoke, first to honor the memory of Steve Moss of the San Luis Obispo New Times, whose untimely death shook the organization. Continuing, Neill paid homage to “the steady rock upon which this organization has run for a long, long time” — Clif Garboden.

Garboden, who persevered through the meeting despite the lingering effects of recent cancer treatments, said, “It’s been a real pleasure being president…. It has been a privilege to serve.”

The meeting concluded with a discussion about how the association should address a union boycott of the Westin Horton Plaza, where the convention was held. To begin the discusion, Independent Weekly’s Richard Hart made an impassioned plea for the association to support the boycott by sending a firm yet respectful letter to Westin’s parent company stating that AAN would take its business elsewhere until the dispute was settled. Several members were sympathetic to labor and stated that they would consider supporting the boycott on behalf of their own paper, but said they were reluctant to have AAN sign onto the letter on such short notice. Others warned against such a large, disparate organization taking political positions. The motion was defeated on a voice vote.

Wells Dunbar was a staff writer for the AAN Convention Daily this year and last. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes for the Austin Chronicle.