2020 AAN Writers Workshop – Duke University

February 27 - 28, 2020 | Durham, N.C.

The 2020 AAN Writers Workshop will take place February 27 – 28 at Duke University in Durham, N.C., hosted by INDY Week and sponsored by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University.

Taking place for the first time since 2012, this Writers Workshop will bring back hands-on, nuts & bolts training for writers and editors.Topics will include developing sources, investigative reporting tips, long-form journalism, covering politics, arts & culture, and a show & tell of successful pieces, with sessions led by national magazine writers, local and national newspaper editors, and award-winning journalists from across the country.

There will also be roundtable sessions for editors on how to manage newsrooms with smaller resources, building diversity, training/motivating young writers, and what it means to be an alternative publication in 2020.

AAN has secured a limited block of rooms at the Unscripted Hotel in downtown Durham at a group rate of $139/night. Use this link to book your room at the group rate and use the code “AAN” or contact Darie Freeman at dfreeman@unscriptedhotels.com to book your room. The deadline to book your room at the group rate is Friday, January 31.

Registration for the conference is just $99/person. Click here to register.

Duke University, West Campus
Brodhead Center
416 Chapel Drive, Durham, NC 27708


Unless noted, sessions held in Bolton Family Tower Room in the Broadhead CenterAAN editors’ breakouts will take place in Commons Conference Room. 

Writer and Editor Critiques

  • By February 20, writers who wish to participate should submit 1 draft (i.e., unedited) feature story to editorial chair Jeffrey Billman at jbillman@indyweek.com, with the subject line “AAN Workshop.”
  • AAN will distribute each story to two editors, who will edit the story as they would for their own publication, and submit the edits back to the writer. 
  • In brief meetings during the conference—taking place in Rooms 248 and 216 on the second floor—the two editors and writer will discuss the story and their edits. 

Thursday, Feb. 27

11:30 am: Registration

12:00–12:50 pm: What Makes a Good Story/30 Stories in 30 MInutes

  • INDY Week editor Jeffrey Billman leads a brief discussion on the elements of good stories, followed by a 30-minute brainstorming session of 30 stories (and FOIA) ideas in 30 minutes. 

1:00–1:50 pm: Writer, Edit Thyself (or, how to make your editor love you)

  • Orlando Weekly editor Jessica Bryce Young teaches tricks for fact-checking and copy-editing in a high-volume environment. 

2–2:50 pm: Old-School Journalism, New-School Presentation

  • Bill Adair, the head of Duke’s Dewitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, founder of PolitiFact, and former Washington bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times, on rethinking how we convey information to readers.   

3–3:50 pm: The Media, Poverty & Race

  • NPR TV critic and MSNBC media analyst Eric Deggans discusses why the media so rarely covers poverty and why journalists so often get race and class wrong. 

4:00–5:25 pm (Commons Conference Room): AAN editors: 21st-Century Alts / Managing Fast, Small & Cheap

  • What is our place in the changing media ecosystem?
  • Structuring newsrooms to meet the demands of the modern era and recruiting the best people to fill positions. (Have editors fill out a brief survey before on staff size, quotas, freelance budget, page counts, ancillary publications, special sections, etc.) 

4–4:40 pm: The Art of the Interview

  • Praised by the Columbia Journalism Review as “one of the best unsung investigative journalists working in print in the United States,” Barry Yeoman’s work has appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Popular Science, and numerous other publications. He’ll lead a conversation on getting the most out of interviews.

4:45–5:25 pm: Writing Profiles

  • Bronwen Dickey, the author of Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, a contributing editor to The Oxford American, and an acclaimed feature writer whose work has been published in Esquire, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Garden & Gun, and elsewhere, will wrap day one with a crash course on bringing humanity to life. 


6:30–8:30 pm: Writers Workshop Happy Hour

  • Drinks and light bites. Alley Twenty Six, 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701 

8–??: Editors-only Commiseration Session

  • At an undisclosed location, EICs and senior edit managers will compare notes, share tales of woe, and drown our sorrows. 

Friday, Feb. 28

9–10:50 am (Commons Conference Room): AAN editors: Building Diversity & Training Young Writers

  • How do we recruit more writers of color and cover communities of color more effectively?
  • We often work with inexperienced writers. How do we get them to do what we need them to do?

9–9:50 am: Making Culture Journalism Relevant

  • Hanna Raskin, the food editor and chief critic for the Charleston Post & Courier and board president of the Association of Food Journalists, will lead a conversation on making cultural journalism vital to modern audiences.

10–10:50 am: Blind Me With Science (or, how empiricism makes environmental stories stronger)

  • Cathy Clabby, a longtime news reporter and former senior editor of the E.O. Wilson Life on Earth digital book series and at American Scientist magazine, on how to use science to make stories more authoritative (and accurate). Don’t be scared; it’s not as hard as you think.

11:00–11:50 am: Covering Politics in a Turbulent Era

  • David Graham, staff writer for The Atlantic, on incisive political and policy writing in a time of bullshit. 

12:00–12:50 pm: Lunch (Keynote: Donna Ladd, Jackson Free Press)

1–2:15 pm: Tools to Make Data Work for You

  • The Google News Initiative’s News Lab will walk you through ways to scrape websites for data, easy tools for data visualization, and show you how to detect disinformation. 

2:25–3:15 pm: How to Use Data to Tell Complex Stories

  • Award-winning investigative journalist Tyler Dukes, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, on using data to tell important stories. 

3:25–4:15 pm: Fine-Tune Your Investigative Spidey-Sense

  • Award-winning former News & Observer investigative reporter Mandy Locke on chasing the big ones.

4:25–5:10 pm: Alternative Channels

  • Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen—a former editor for USA Today and The Des Moines Register who now publishes Raleigh Convergence—hosts an open discussion on podcasts, newsletters, other ways of communicating with audiences. Who is using these effectively? Is it just a time-suck? 

5:20–6 pm: Success Stories / Closing Remarks

  • Show us the best things you’ve done in the last year—and tell us how you got those stories. Jeffrey Billman hosts.