Four New Member Papers Admitted to AAN

june 17, 2006  05:23 pm
AAN members approved four of the ten membership applications that were considered during the association's annual meeting on Saturday afternoon in Little Rock, Ark., welcoming new members The Beat (Greenville, S.C.), Port Folio Weekly (Norfolk, Va.), The Portland Mercury and the Independent Weekly (Lafayette, La.). In addition, the memberships of Des Moines' Cityview and Boston's Weekly Dig were affirmed in a process designed to ensure that the papers still belonged in the association despite recent changes in their ownership.

The Independent Weekly was admitted on a second ballot after the paper fell just short of the required two-thirds majority on the initial vote. The paper's editor, Scott Jordan, and Gambit Weekly co-owner Clancy DuBos made convincing pleas on behalf of the Independent before the second ballot was cast.

The complete recommendations from the Membership Committee are available here. Their comments on AAN's newest members appear below.

The Beat

  The Beat
"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."

The Independent Weekly

Independent Weekly
"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."

Port Folio Weekly

  Port Folio Weekly
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 Portland Mercury

Portland Mercury
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.