Talking Bear Helps Present Alternative Newsweekly Awards

David Carr, a New York Times media reporter and the host of the 9th annual Alternative Newsweekly Awards, didn’t seem to mind that he was the second person asked to emcee. “Those of you familiar with the AAN Web site, if there is such a thing, may have realized I wasn’t the first choice,” he quipped at the beginning of the ceremony. According to Carr, the original recruit (The Stranger’s Dan Savage) was being held at an undisclosed location and things were going to be done a little different this time around. In spite of the technical difficulties and missing awardees, Carr was able to keep his promise.

Forbidden to indulge in the infamous antics of two years ago, where award recipients threw down shots of liquor and at least one media executive stripped down to his skivvies, Carr brought along co-host “Buddy,” a small, pink, “socially maladaptive” talking bear who took shots at San Antonio’s vaunted River Walk, as well as the “ungrateful wretches” who weren’t present to receive their awards. (See accompanying list of winners.)

Though not directly attributed to Carr, the most notable change in the event was the allocation of small, engraved awards. For the first time ever, first-place recipients received circle-shaped mementos made out of Lucite to hold as proof of their accomplishments.

Before announcing recipients, Carr, who has participated as a judge or contestant in the AAN awards since their inception, attempted to refute the position of those that “compare AAN awards to winning the tallest midget contest.” Waxing nostalgic for the time he served as editor at Washington City Paper, he relayed the story of how he would take weeks to compile award entries, paying particular attention to making sure that photocopies were clean and his submission letter was “just casual enough.”

“People take this seriously,” he said, later adding that “some of the best and brightest in American journalism review this work.”

But the romance in his presentation soon waned, and Carr and his co-host were back to their wisecracks, stunted only briefly by a few computer screen glitches and a two-second blackout in the hall where the ceremony was held. Sharing a stage with ample room for themselves but not for award winners, Carr asked first-place recipients to stand up where they were and share what their mother would think if she knew they had received one. “Do your best to keep it short, but keep it real,” he said before segueing into announcements. The handful of recipients or representatives that were there mostly kept it short.

Names in four categories were called out before the first winner was initiated in the new ritual. Bob Whitby, editor of Orlando Weekly, who won for political commentary, was met with the most enthusiastic applause of the day when he sprouted from his chair in the back of the room, arms flailing. Erik Wemple, editor of Washington City Paper, who placed in the media reporting category for a story he co-wrote with Josh Levin, offered a brief but humorous response to Carr’s request. Wemple shared his mother would probably say, “Maybe this will help you get into law school.”

David Comden of Southland Publishing was on hand to accept awards on behalf of staffers Hillary Johnson and Monica McGregor for the story “Horace Bristol” which won in both the arts features and editorial layout categories.

Joy Howard is a 2003 fellow of the Academy for Alternative Journalism who has written for Boston’s Weekly Dig and Cleveland Free Times. She is coordinator of professional development programs for Wheelock College and lives in Brookline, Mass.