Four Papers Admitted to AAN

Eight applicants rejected for membership.

june 8, 2000  11:51 am
At the annual meeting in Phoenix this weekend, AAN members approved the membership applications of four papers -- Ventura County Reporter, Urban View, Charleston City Paper and Tacoma Reporter. All four papers had been recommended by the Admissions Committee (see the Admissions Committee report below).

Ventura County Reporter and Charleston City Paper were both given the thumbs-up after their original application for membership was rejected last year in Memphis. Urban View and Tacoma Reporter were first-time applicants.

The addition of the Ventura County paper and the Oakland-based Urban View increases AAN's member rolls in California to 21 papers, more than twice the sum that are based in New York, the state with the second-highest number of AAN papers. Meanwhile, Tacoma Reporter is AAN's fourth member to hail from Washington State, and Charleston City Paper is the first to call South Carolina home.

Applications for membership were light this year, with entries declining from 23 in 1999 to 12 this year. Eight of the papers that applied were not recommended by the Admissions Committee; the general membership voted to accept only the papers that met the Committee's approval.

After it met in Phoenix on May 31 -- the day before the AAN convention officially began -- the Committee issued the following statement to the membership:

Admissions Committee Report

The Admissions Committee recommends against admitting the following papers at this time. As one committee member noted: "Criticism is a form of love."

The Voice/Oil City Voice (8 no/1 yes).
These related papers (published in western Connecticut and Oil City, Pennsylvania) give new definition to the term "unique." Content is written almost entirely by readers. While we can't say anything bad about a forum that publishes the sentence "It seems that the city officials, redevelopment bureaucrats, and other self-important individuals who work on these projects are basically grant-seeking leeches," these papers don't share AAN's readership, age cohort, advertising base, or arts-and-entertainment obsessions. They do, however, share two prime tenets of our mission: giving voice to the under-represented and giving hell to the mainstream perspective. Inescapably, though, we look at them as curious artifacts, not newspapers. All power to papers that serve democracy, but these don't support investigative reporting and thoughtful cultural coverage or probe alternative lifestyles. Talk-radio in print; not a forum for authoritative discourse.

The Citizen Newspaper , Cincinnati, Ohio (9 no/0 yes)
A fine-enough music paper with a confusing format and zine sensibility, but there's too much aggressive opinion mongering and not enough journalism. This music-focused weekly is obviously targeting young readers, but has very little to tell them. The cover stories are shallow, the columnists are weak, and the editing is sloppy - as in "high heals." Could be a dadaesque publishing experiment, but it's not an alternative newspaper.

The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, North Carolina (8 no/1 yes).
This credible community newspaper is almost weird enough to be an alternative, and it deserves credit for covering Greensboro's African-American community - and for some over-used but charmingly odd-ball innovations (such as "Beep" - transcribed voice-mail messages left by readers). But it has no arts coverage and makes no serious attempt at comprehensive news coverage. Quirky and sometimes entertaining, but still a community paper.

The Every Other Weekly, Bellingham, Washington (7 no/2 yes).
The committee has seen this paper before and is cheered to report that it has improved. There's a decent amount of good local environmental coverage and some clever features, but on the down side, the news-and-comment section is way too heavy on comment; there's an over-reliance on syndicated filler; arts coverage is boosterish and light on criticism; there are no movie reviews; and cover stories (a preview of a Gregory Peck public appearance, for example) never deliver much.

The Source, Bend, Oregon (7 no/2 yes)
The story about the Canadian flag being removed from the Central Oregon Welcome Center was a good three-inch item taken to self-destructive lengths. Then there was that puff piece on a local dj. Most stories could run in a daily - there is nothing alternative, or original, about them. Also the paper desperately needs a proofreader. A good start, but not enough "meat on its bones" yet. There must be more compelling stories to be told in Bend than the ones seen here.

Our City, Clarksville, Tennessee (6 no/3 yes).
The Admissions Committee sees great promise here and strongly recommends that the paper seek mentoring from AAN papers (there were several volunteers) before re-applying. One committee member wrote: "Despite the low score given by this judge, this is a very pleasant, enjoyable publication - a high-quality community newspaper with creative ideas for packaging content. A strong sense of community is evident in the editorial vision - the attitude is positive and caring, not boosterish." Still, the flaws are deep. The cover story "Clarksville's JFK [Jr.] Connection," based on the fact that the late George publisher once visited the local Quebecor printing plant where his magazine was printed, was a pathetic stretch. Nevertheless, the basics are in place for Our City to become an AAN-worthy paper.

Crosswinds Weekly, Albuquerque, New Mexico (6 no/2 yes). Audrey van Buskirk recused due to market conflict.
A poorly-written paper that gives the illusion of substance. Another example of opinion masquerading as news, the committee concluded. Its well-rounded arts coverage doesn't compensate for poor story selection and unwise conflicts of interest: a legislative preview written by a former legislator; a feature on socially responsible businesses written by the editor of a business-ethics magazine. Free Press, West Palm Beach, Florida (5 no/4 yes).
The committee found this well-written, lively lifestyle publication (with an emphasis on local quirks and jerks) a sheer joy to read. But despite the paper's high entertainment value, it is not a well-rounded effort. There's very little news; club listings don't include who's performing; and the features (again, beautifully executed) don't offer much information or approach many issues. A very good effort, but this paper (which has plenty of sparkle throughout) could use a bit more of an editorial edge. The committee loved it; but the committee recommends against its admission.

The Admissions Committee recommends in favor of admitting the following papers this year.

Ventura County Reporter, Ventura, California (5 yes/4 no).
This paper's strength is its strong local ethos and honest attempt to cover Ventura County. While noting that many stories have a "safe, suburban" feel, the committee felt that this recently redesigned paper was up to AAN standards. Stay honest, and keep moving away from being a community newspaper.

Urban View , Oakland, California (6 yes/1 no). Tim Redmond recused due to market conflict and personal affiliations; Sharan Street recused due to editorial affiliation.
A strong favorite among many committee members. The new publication from the Bay Area is serious, professional, and definitely has its editorial heart in the right place. Yes, there's room for improvement and maturity, but Urban View offers a well-focused look at its local community without trying to be all things to all readers. J. Douglas Allen-Taylor's column is a standout addition that any AAN paper would be proud to run. Sample comments: "Strong newspaper, has a different voice and sounds like an urban-center paper. Tough articles and columns. Need to work out design issues but otherwise a keeper." "An extremely alternative newsweekly." "This is 'the little paper that could' . . . or might. Action-packed 28-page package, but nowhere near enough space to do Oakland justice. Great potential."

The Charleston City Paper, Charleston, South Carolina (8 yes/1 no).
The news section offers a well-presented combination of stories, columns, short takes, and an interview - all well-written, informative, and irreverent. Arts coverage is a good mix of well-written and well-organized reviews and previews - in almost all genres - that coincide with listings by category. The arts section is sophisticated, but also user-friendly. A solid city newsweekly that gives a real sense of place. It makes Charleston sound like a vibrant, culturally alive town. A useful guide to the city's culture that needs to strengthen its reporting and overall editorial quality, but it's well on its way.

Tacoma Reporter, Tacoma, Washington (9 yes/0 no)
A slam-dunk. Good sense of humor; great listings; "Haiku News" is well done; creativity abounds; imaginative story choice; and this paper features some of the best news coverage the committee saw this year. This is a solid small paper with a knack for making almost anything interesting and a good no-prisoners take on local politics. Committee members actually expressed jealousy. One "little" thing: having Budweiser "sponsor" the "Nightlife" pages is an evil institution that destroys well-earned credibility. Stop it. Now.

The AAN Admissions Committee is Clif Garboden (chair)/Boston Phoenix, Matt Gibson/Missoula Independent, Elizabeth Kieszkowski/until recently of the Honolulu Weekly, Ken Neill/Memphis Flyer, Tim Redmond/San Francisco Bay Guardian, Paula Routly/Seven Days, Sharan Street/Metro - San Jose, Audrey Van Buskirk/Santa Fe Reporter , and Fran Zankowski/Hartford Advocate. The chair thanks everyone for taking the job seriously and . . . well . . . caring.