Letters

On the surface, it's mostly a trade-association issue, insider stuff involving the relationship between the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and IAJ, a nonprofit that AAN created about 10 years ago to run our wire service. A lot of AAN editors, including your professional colleagues at other New Times papers, think IAJ is doing a rotten job running the service: Important stories don't get out on the wire, the IAJ staff is uncooperative and sometimes hostile to clients, and IAJ Executive Director Don Hazen seems a lot more interested in running big navel-gazing conferences on "media democracy" than in helping editors like me put out better alternative newspapers.

AAN will probably sever its ties with IAJ this year and cut off the $33,000 annual subsidy we pay to support the wire service. Hazen and his allies are trying to stop that from happening, and they've turned it into an ugly personal battle. Which is annoying, if not surprising.

But there's a larger issue here.
A lot of what alternative papers publish is highly political, often controversial. IAJ decides which stories from papers like SF Weekly and the Bay Guardian are worth sending out to a nationwide audience -- and which are not. Those are political decisions.

I'm never going to agree with every decision the IAJ censors make (per-sonally, I think the wire service ought to send out everything it gets, and let the editors decide what to use; that ap-proach works for AP), but at the very least, I need to know that the decisions are made on the basis of some credible journalistic standard -- not some hidden political agenda.

IAJ gets most of its million-dollar annual budget from foundation grants. Private foundations these days not only give money to nonprofit groups -- they try, often successfully, to influence the political agendas of the groups they fund. This is a growing problem for progressive grass-roots organizations all over the country: If you want the money to pay your rent and keep your staff from starving, you have to tailor your activism to the causes foundation funders like.

Is IAJ letting the desires of its foundation funders influence how it runs the alternative press wire service? I don't know -- IAJ board meetings are secret. Hazen won't tell me which foundations he's approaching or what he's promising them. I still don't know how much money comes from which grants from which foundations, or for which IAJ projects that money was earmarked.

The fact that I don't know these things makes me -- and a lot of other alternative newspaper editors -- very nervous about the organization that is controlling the syndication of our editorial content.

P.S.: I haven't heard Bruce Brugmann ask "Where's the bottleneck?" in at least 10 years. And I've never heard him use that phrase in anger or indignation; it was always a joke, delivered with a smile. It reflected his (admitted) cluelessness about the details of the production side of the newspaper business. I don't know where you found the "disgruntled former staff member" you quoted, but I can tell you this: Shortly before she died of cancer last winter, Cecily Murphy, who had worked for Bruce for many years, sent him a long, touching letter about all the good times she'd had at the paper. She signed it, "yours truly, the Bottleneck."

Tim Redmond, Executive Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian

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