Committee Looking at Ways to Grow AAN

december 21, 2009  03:14 pm
It's become such an essential truth in our industry that it feels funny even writing it down, but here goes: the media landscape is vastly different than when the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies was formed in 1978.

The digital transformation has ushered in countless websites that cover the ground first staked by alt-weeklies, with varying results. Meanwhile, back on the printed page, niche publications and ethnic media are riding out the economic storm far better than many mainstream publications. As the industry changes, AAN is considering changes as well, including possibly growing the association's membership. A new advisory committee tasked with exploring potential ways to do just that met for the first time last week via conference call.

The committee, which emerged from the long range planning process AAN's board of directors underwent last year, will be co-chaired by Santa Fe Reporter editor Julia Goldberg and Tim Redmond, editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Redmond and Goldberg both serve on the AAN board as First Amendment Chair and Editorial Chair, respectively. They are joined on the committee by Jody Colley (publisher, East Bay Express), Margaret Downing (editor, Houston Press), Sally Freeman (publisher, Boise Weekly), Donna Ladd (editor, Jackson Free Press) and Erin Sullivan (editor, Baltimore City Paper).

"The world of media, including alternative media, is changing, and there may be publications out there -- online-only publications, for example -- that meet AAN's standards and mission and would bring a lot to the association," Redmond says. "The current bylaws were written in an different era, and it's worth exploring whether we should expand to include new types of media."

In its first meeting, the committee talked about the possibility of expanding AAN membership to include web-only publications that meet the association's current standards—in other words, alt-weekly newspapers that are missing only the "newspaper." Such a change would require only a slight adjustment of AAN's bylaws, since many of the membership requirements would remain the same.

The committee also tackled the topic of increasing AAN's international membership. AAN currently counts seven international publications as members; all are based in Canada and publish in English. The committee recognized that recruiting more English-language international papers is an easy first step, since the association already has the processes in place to evaluate and potentially admit these publications; all that's needed is more outreach. The committee also discussed opening AAN to Spanish-language papers, and noted the need to recruit Spanish-speaking members for the membership committee if the association moves in that direction.

Niche publications, like many alt-weeklies, have weathered the economic downturn better than mainstream daily newspapers. The committee briefly debated the inclusion of niche publications that practice high-quality journalism but aren't considered "general interest," and thus don't meet membership standards under the current bylaws. The committee noted that AAN wouldn't have to lower its editorial standards here, but agreed that there were probably some niche, LGBT, environmental and ethnic newspapers that fit the bill.

"Part of what is exciting about the grow AAN initiative is that it's an opportunity for AAN membership to have what is probably an overdue conversation about the future of alternative newsweeklies and this association," Goldberg says. "Whatever is decided in terms of expanding our parameters, this gives us a chance to think about what we want to look like down the road."

The committee agreed to survey members about these issues in early January.

Any of the aforementioned changes, if pursued, will go before both the board and the full membership. The board will discuss possible bylaws changes in its January meeting and some or all of the committee's recommendations could come up for discussion before the membership at this summer's convention in Toronto.

In the meantime, Redmond says he's available to talk about anyone about the potential changes: "I'm hoping to get a lot of input from the members, and people who have thoughts about this should feel free to call me."

You can reach Tim Redmond at tr (at) or 415-255-3100.