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Lunch with Bill 

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

Journalism’s cool club, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, allowed The Coast to join its rarified ranks three years ago. Actually, to be perfectly cocky, they welcomed us with open arms, calling The Coast “the classic admissions-committee no-brainer.” Since then, we’ve gone to AAN’s annual club meeting to rub shoulders and share common problems with our new-found peers. We just got back from the 2006 convention, held this time around in Little Rock, Arkansas. Besides the convention, a perk of AAN membership is that you can enter the AltWeekly Awards. Big papers like the Village Voice, Vancouver’s Georgia Straight and NOW in Toronto compete with big papers, small vs. small, and the best in weekly journalism is celebrated at a lunch at the convention.

In previous years, our experience with the awards mainly involved futility, envy and polite applause for the winner. (The lone bright spot was 2004’s third-place award in the illustration category, for a cover Marc Bell drew.) This year, our efforts produced a whopping five awards: first-place for best illustration (Kate O’Connor’s “Christmas balls” drawings on the cover of the December 8 holiday planner); first for best website; first for editorial layout (the design of the November 10 feature “No place to go”); second for editorial layout (September 29’s “Y” story and accompanying photo essay) and honourable mention for best special section (September 1’s Back to School Supplement). The elated Coast delegation walked out of last Friday’s ceremony with more firsts than went to any other paper, big or small.

At the risk of sounding like the vain, selfish prick I am, I figured the awards would be the highlight of the convention weekend. Then came the Saturday lunch with Little Rock’s local boy made good, the last democratically elected president of the United States, Bill Clinton. If I had any thoughts of resting on the lucite laurels of some AAN award plaques, they fled in shame, gone soon after Clinton started speaking. This man lead the free world for almost a decade—earning both rest and major laurels—yet he continues to work for change.

He waived his speaking fee and gave AAN almost three hours of his time, taking questions after his speech then coming down off the stage to talk further. Most of the group in the convention centre ballroom—that’s about 500 people from the snarkiest, sharpest, most subversive papers on the continent—gushed forward. In his navy blue suit, light blue shirt, yellow tie and that white mane of hair, Clinton shook hands, signed autographs and talked until every last person was satisfied. “That guy is one smart motherfucker,” said an editor I overheard, which about sums it up. Brilliant, charming and electric, Clinton takes the cliche of “charismatic politician” to a new level. He’s more like charisma itself, and will doubtless captivate even a room as big as the Metro Centre when he speaks in Halifax next month.

During his talk to the AAN assembly, Clinton referenced countless sources without pauses or notes, and touched on subjects from alternative newspapers (he tries to read them when he travels because they “fill in the blanks” in the local community) to Hillary running for president (he says he doesn’t know if she will). He mentioned globalization, terrorism, the internet, tsunamis and a recent Rolling Stone article that makes “a very persuasive case” George Bush stole the last US election.

Best of all, he spent a lot of time building an elegant argument that global warming is the major problem of the day, and he sees opportunity in the jobs that will have to be created on the way to a post-fossil fuel economy. “We are being hit over the head with our ticket to the future,” is the way he put it. Hopefully he’ll keep on telling people, one room at a time if need be, until the message gets through.

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