Four New Member Papers Admitted into AAN

june 9, 2008  09:55 am
AAN members approved four of the 11 membership applications that were considered during the association's annual meeting on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, welcoming new members City Pulse (Lansing, Mich.), Fast Forward (Calgary, Alberta), Hawaii Island Journal (Hilo, Hawaii) and Las Vegas CityLife.

Only two of those four papers were recommended by the Membership Committee -- City Pulse and Hawaii Island Journal. Neither Fast Forward nor CityLife received a thumbs up from the committee because of thorny ownership issues, yet after a vigorous and sometimes philosophical discussion of media ownership, the changing media landscape, and AAN's place in it all, both papers were ultimately voted in.

This year, for the first time, members and applying papers were alloted two minutes to speak prior to the first ballot for or against particular applications. (In the past, discussion was allowed only prior to a second ballot, which is required when an application is approved by half of the members voting but less than the two-thirds majority required for admission.)

Eight of the applications didn't inspire any discussion, but three others motivated several attendees to mount a soapbox and weigh.

Yes! Weekly (Greensboro, N.C.) editor Brian Clarey responded to the Membership Committee's thumbs-down by talking about how much AAN membership would mean to his paper. He noted that Yes! had already learned a great deal from attending AAN conventions in the past, and that the paper could grow even stronger if it was able to draw on the other resources available to members. Mountain XPress publisher Jeff Fobes also defended his fellow North Carolina publication by noting how important the paper is to the civic life of Greensboro. However, AAN members ultimately declined to approve Yes!'s application.

Next up was Fast Forward, which -- despite being recommended for admission by the Membership Committee -- was denied entry at last year's annual meeting after an at-times contentious debate over media consolidation and ownership. This year, the committee did not recommend the Canadian weekly. San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor and Membership Committee member Tim Redmond spoke first, opposing the paper's application without explicitly saying so by asking the members present to consider whether the paper's ownership structure violated the AAN bylaws proscription against media conglomerates.

Vue Weekly publisher and editor Ron Garth, who invoked the name of fallen press baron Conrad Black when he opposed Fast Forward's application at last year's annual meeting, again referred to Black as a reason to deny entry to the Calgary-based alt-weekly. (Black's former company, Hollinger, Inc., formerly owned Fast Forward.) Garth again recounted his battle in Edmonton against Fast Forward's sister paper, See Magazine (which has also applied for membership the past two years), and argued that allowing Fast Forward into the association would have the effect of hurting an independently owned AAN member -- his own paper.

Memphis Flyer publisher and AAN board member Kenneth Neill spoke next, noting that the media landscape has changed and is still changing. Neill urged members to consider each applying paper on the merits of its work, rather than placing so much emphasis on its owner.

Fast Forward's publisher spoke next. A visibly nervous Ian Chiclo defended his paper's ownership structure, and tried to soften the parent company's image by noting that his paper was the second largest in the entire group, and that the dailies it owns are mostly in small towns and have microscopic circulations.

Next up was Las Vegas CityLife, another paper the Membership Committee declined to recommend due to ownership issues. Tucson Weekly editor Jimmy Boegle spoke first, noting that he formerly worked at CityLife, and that the paper is essential to the Las Vegas community it covers. He said that rather than look at owner Stephens Media's actions in other markets, members should think about what it was doing in Vegas: Keeping a paper alive, pouring resources in, and generally letting the paper do what it does best: serve the community.

Reno News & Review editor D. Brian Burghart also defended CityLife, noting that, as another paper in the same state, the News & Review often worked on special projects and shared resources and content with the Las Vegas paper. He also argued that CityLife is a good paper that easily meets AAN standards. Tim Redmond and Kenneth Neill then spoke again, each reiterating arguments they had made in connection with Fast Forward's application.

"So I guess you don't like our corporate owners," CityLife editor Steve Sebelius said as he got up to speak. "That makes it unanimous." After his levity brought laughter to the room he made the same point more seriously, noting that he had written much stronger negative opinions about Stephens Media in the pages of CityLife. He also noted that the company was entirely hands off in its handling of his paper, and echoed Boegle's point that Stephens had kept alive a good alt-weekly that otherwise might have closed.

Then it was time to vote. The first ballot produced three new AAN members: CityLife, City Pulse, and Hawaii Island Journal. And after receiving 44 favorable votes on the first ballot, Fast Forward added twelve more yea votes to its total and was admitted on a second ballot. Boston's Weekly Dig president Jeff Lawrence may have been responsible for changing some hearts because he put in a good word for Fast Forward prior to the second vote. Speaking from his own experience, Lawrence said AAN membership can provide a huge boost for a young paper by helping it improve. He said that many members may have forgotten that since they've been in the association for years.

After the applying-paper votes, members turned to the issue of the five member papers whose ownership had changed in the past nine to 24 months. The Membership Committee had recommended that the membership of four of those papers be affirmed: Cityview (Des Moines), East Bay Express (Emeryville, Calif.), The Other Paper (Columbus, Ohio) and the Weekly Dig. But the committee recommended that members boot out Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse, because it had been acquired by E.W. Scripps, a media company that owns the daily paper and other publications in the Knoxville market. The committee argued that the paper's new ownership situation was "not in line with the bylaws" of AAN.

The membership of the four papers recommended by the committee was affirmed by voice vote. After Membership Committee chair Erin Sullivan read a letter from Metro Pulse editor Coury Turczyn, who didn't attend the convention, the members present bucked the committee's recommendation and affirmed Metro Pulse's membership in the association.

The Membership Committee recommendations are available to AAN members in the Resource Library.