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What’s it all about, Alfie?



In June the North Coast Journalwas accepted as a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), a group of 130-plus newspapers reaching “more than 25 million young, educated, active and influential adults in the U.S. and Canada,” according to the AAN website.

“To meet the association’s rigorous membership standards, newspapers must demonstrate that they produce high-quality journalism that offers a valuable alternative to the mainstream media in their area.” (Only 30 percent of the applying papers are admitted. Among the 30 founding members of AAN in 1978 were Willamette Week, the Chicago Reader and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.)

“There are a wide range of publications in AAN. What ties them all together are point-of-view reporting, the use of strong, direct language, a tolerance for individual freedoms and social differences, and an eagerness to report news that many mainstream media outlets would rather ignore.”

In the early years of the Journal -- as a monthly publication prior to mid-1998, and as a weekly since -- reporting news that mainstream media would rather ignore was particularly easy. There was the Times-Standard and we were lucky if, on a good day, that newspaper printed three non-offensive local stories along with the press releases. They took advertisers’ money and your subscription dollars, they filled the paper with wire copy and, without a blush, sent the net proceeds to a man in Denver named Dean Singleton so he could continue to build his MediaNews empire (or, according to his version of history, save newspapers in backwater places like Eureka). In any case, when T-S reporters wrote that the head of Louisiana-Pacific Corp. or the city manager of Eureka or the county administrative officer “resigned” and all was well with the world, we told you the truth: that they were all fired. And we told you why. When the heart program at St. Joseph Hospital shut down after just a few months in operation and hospital officials stonewalled, we spent days down at the county records department going over death certificates and took a crash course on mortality rates following bypass surgery to get to the heart of the story.

I’m not sure most casual readers realize how far we’ve come in 10 years and how good we news junkies have it -- particularly these last two years, with the Eureka Reporter challenging the T-S on a daily basis. The ER certainly prints a lot of happy stories and big, beautiful pictures, but it is getting better at enterprise reporting and overall quality all the time and, no surprise, so is the T-S. How rare is this competition? The existence of two daily newspapers in a city of any size in the U.S. is extremely rare in our industry today; there just are not the print advertising dollars to support it. So enjoy it while you can. How long this will last is anyone’s guess. At first I predicted Rob Arkley would tire of funding an annual multimillion dollar gift to the community after a few years (he says he won’t), or that Singleton would finally begin to lose money here (and he may be close). So far, neither one has blinked.

In any case, reporting “news that mainstream media would rather ignore” is tougher for us today since the two dailies have news staffs about eight times larger than ours and they both own their own presses. As a result, we have been having ongoing discussions on how we use our editorial space and limited financial resources. (On these very pages last week, Media Maven Marcy Burstiner irreverently opined that our cover stories are too damn long -- and some weeks, I agree.)

The bottom line for the Journal is that in spite of this fierce competition for print ad dollars, we continue to grow at a healthy rate. (Go figure.) As the number of pages grows, we are actively seeking additional freelance writers for our news sections, columns and arts and entertainment pages. (Warning: We are looking for good writers, not necessarily trained journalists. But do not even think of applying until you go to our website and read “Writers’ Guidelines.”)

In the meantime, our new membership in AAN is another significant growth step for us. Each of our managers (editorial, advertising, production) is already on very specific listservs with our counterparts across the country, sharing information and asking for help. We also have access to training, support and legal counsel, which unfortunately we occasionally need.

In addition, once a year AAN commissions a story on a compelling national or international topic and offers it to its member papers. This year a man very familiar to Humboldt County, John Ross, was chosen to write a report on “Death in Oaxaca.” This week the Journal and many AAN newspapers across the U.S. are printing this story simultaneously in hopes that it gets the attention it deserves.

(Sorry, Marcie, but I think John’s story is closer to 6,000 words, so find a comfy chair.)

Footnote: Two weeks ago I wrote in this space a plea to Rep. Mike Thompson, our guy in the House, to bring up the subject of the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who said again last month that impeachment “is off the table.”) I have not heard back, so I’m sending my column via e-mail to his Washington, D.C., office, and will print his response.

I am asking like-minded Journal readers to take a few minutes and comment directly to Mike as well. Go to mikethompson.house.gov and follow the prompts to “Email the Congressman.” And to those of you who have commented that impeachment would be futile given the makeup of the Senate: That’s not the point. Impeachment by the House would tell the world that we believe in the Constitution and we are a lawful nation. That’s the point.

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