Five New Member Papers Admitted to AAN

june 18, 2007  04:56 am
AAN members approved five of the 19 membership applications that were considered during the association's annual meeting on Saturday afternoon in Portland, welcoming new members Metro Spirit (Augusta, Ga.), North Coast Journal (Eureka, Calif.), The Pulse (Chattanooga, Tenn.), Urban Tulsa Weekly, and Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Alberta).

The members endorsed two of the Membership Committee's recommendations in accepting Metro Spirit and The Pulse, but declined to admit a third paper favored by the committee: Calgary's FFWD, aka Fast Forward Weekly.

In the first round of voting, Fast Forward was one of the three applicants that received more than half but less than two-thirds of the vote, thus opening the floor to a discussion of the papers' merits and triggering a second ballot. The other two were Urban Tulsa Weekly and Vue Weekly, which were both accepted as members.

Publisher Ian Chiclo talked about his 12-year history with Fast Forward and offered a defense of the paper, which had come under fire for ownership issues; specifically that it had formerly been majority owned by Hollinger Inc. and disgraced press baron Conrad Black. Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight and Michael Hollett of NOW Magazine spoke against Fast Forward's admission, which Hollett said would "block a true indie [paper] from taking hold in Calgary." Calling it a "historic moment," the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Bruce Brugmann also argued against the paper's application, citing Fast Forward's "conglomerate interests" and saying, simply: "This is not what we're about." Mike Lenehan of the Chicago Reader defended the paper and argued for its inclusion, offering the example of AAN's current membership to illustrate that "ownership by a media company doesn't mean what it used to mean." Ultimately, though, Fast Forward failed to surpass the 66.7 percent threshold on the second ballot and was not admitted.

Holly Wall, editorial manager of Urban Tulsa Weekly, took up the case for her paper, noting they had taken to heart the recommendations about improving the paper offered by the Membership Committee on the paper's two previous applications. The Santa Barbara Independent's Robby Robbins defended Urban Tulsa Weekly against the committee's less flattering comments, arguing that judgments about its editorial content should take into consideration the conservative nature of the Tulsa market. After Wall and Robbins spoke, the paper was admitted on the second ballot.

Editor and publisher Ron Garth spoke for his paper, Vue Weekly, focusing on his long battle with See Magazine, Fast Forward's sister paper and another of this year's applying papers. (See Magazine -- which, to make matters even more complex, was originally founded by Garth before being taken over by another company -- had its membership application rejected.) Garth spoke at length about Conrad Black. At one point during his speech, the Boston Phoenix's Clif Garboden angrily cross-examined Garth, forcing him to acknowledge that Lord Black, who is currently a defendant in a criminal fraud case in a U.S. federal court, hadn't owned See Magazine for over a year. When Garth continued to talk about Black, AAN president Ken Neill, who was running the meeting, abruptly ordered him to stop using "the C word or the B word." Garth's plea was also interrupted at one point by a margarita delivery by the Colorado Springs Independent's John Weiss, who provided many of the attendees with libations.

Charlie Smith and Dan McLeod of the Georgia Straight both also spoke in favor of Vue's admission, and on the second ballot the paper was named a new AAN member.

Also during the meeting, the membership status of the six papers affected by the 2006 New Times-Village Voice Media merger was reaffirmed. The VVM papers that maintained their membership in the association were The Village Voice, the Nashville Scene, OC Weekly, LA Weekly, Seattle Weekly and City Pages (Twin Cities).

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

Metro Spirit
8 yes; 2 no

This paper comes across as very, very local. "The news section is weighty and clearly breaks some big stories," one committee member noted. Another praised it for its youthful attitude and flair. The committee was impressed particularly with the front of the book -- it makes a big impression when you open up the paper. Some questioned the paper's arts coverage, however, calling it "surveyish and promotional."

"Arts and cultural coverage could use some critical thinking, less cheerleading," one member observed.

This paper is not perfect, but very deserving of admission.

North Coast Journal
6 yes; 4 no

There was spirited discussion and disagreement among the committee about North Coast Journal -- those who were against it felt very strongly that it was not a paper with enough alt-sensibility; those who were for it felt strongly that it was clearly member material.

This paper is professionally done and seems to be doing a good job serving a small market. But it's a little too rah-rah -- take for example, the story about the local food co-op and how wonderful it is for the community. There is room to do more with this paper, edgier things and more alternative things, which they are just are not doing. "Could use more bite," said one committee member.

The Pulse
7 yes; 3 no

This paper is much improved from last year. "The local election coverage is remarkably hip, droll, and insightful," said one committee member. High marks for its sense of humor -- funny without being sophomoric. "This paper now has an identity and a level of maturity that puts it in a position to join AAN." There were some stumbling points but nothing significant enough to keep the committee from withholding its recommendation.

Urban Tulsa Weekly
6 yes; 4 no

This newspaper is obviously making great strides forward, and has come a long way since first applying for membership. "Smart commentary, good news section, good, engaging writing overall," one member said. However, there were elements of the paper that made some committee members uncomfortable. "Little or no reporting -- just rehashing other people's points of view." There was concern that one story in the news section was little more than a military recruitment ad disguised as news.

Vue Weekly
5 yes; 5 no

"There is nothing wrong with this paper, per se," said one committee member, "but there isn't much that seems super-right with it either." Vue Weekly covers many bases, but there's not a lot of in-depth reporting, and the paper could use more long-form features offering "more insight on the community and its people." However, it does tackle some important subjects such as the Canadian military and the drug market.