11 Reasons the 2013 AAN Convention in Miami Kicked Ass

We came. We learned. We did irreparable damage to our livers. Along the way, we heard from some of the smartest and most entertaining people in the industry, picked up tools to do our jobs better, and bonded with peers in a way that can only happen poolside while sharing a drink or ten.

Was the 2013 AAN Convention in Miami a great convention or the greatest convention? That’s a question for the historians to sort out.

All we can say for sure is that our hosts at Miami New Times, led by the indefatigable Chuck Strouse, helped make this year’s gathering one for the books. And if the size of the crowd and enthusiasm of the attendees is any indication of the industry at large, the future of alt news media is neon bright.

So how exactly did the AAN Convention kick ass so hard this year? Let us count the ways.

  1. Practical Advice: Shiny objects are nice, but the hot new web gadget of the week is only as valuable as the person using it. The panels on social media, ebooks, and legal issues each offered practical tips that every newsroom can implement, regardless of size or market.

    Social media panelists Kevin Spidel, Gwynedd Stuart, and Daniel Victor explained how a little common sense (take it easy on the hashtag and exclamation use) can go a long way on social media. In not one, but two legal sessions, Voice Media Group (VMG) attorneys and AAN attorney Kevin Goldberg shared guidelines for avoiding lawsuits and respecting copyright claims in the era of copy & paste. Panelists from Philadelphia Weekly and VMG described the process behind three unique ebook projects — a true crime anthology of previously published work, a collection of personal stories from sexual abuse survivors, and a Kindle single — from conception to final product.

    Each of those sessions focused not on the hypothetical “Here’s what’s possible,” but rather on the specifics of “Here’s how to do it.”

  2. Digital Strategy: “It’s easier to hire good salesperson and train them in mobile than to hire good mobile person and have them excel in sales,” said Louis Gump of LSN Mobile while sharing his rules for mobile success. During the same session, Matt Voigt of Saambaa showed off successful mobile campaigns such as the New York Times’ interactive CitiBike map, which combined useful content for the consumer while also generating revenue for the Times.

    Other sessions tackled digital sales strategy (with separate tracks based on experience level), revenue ideas, and new technologies for improving digital classifieds.

  3. Taibbi: During the opening keynote, Rolling Stone contributing editor and alt-weekly veteran Matt Taibbi described the experience of reporting from Russia after the fall of communism. The Western press, Taibbi said, only wanted stories that were variations of “Russian citizens taste KFC for the first time,” and anything else that fit within the narrative of progress.

    What Taibbi saw, however, was far more chaotic: The rise of organized crime, prostitution, and rampant urban violence. The alternative press exists precisely to report on stories that don’t fit within the mainstream narrative, and those stories are often far more interesting and rewarding.

    “People will always have an appetite for unvarnished truth from journalists who are curious about how the world works,” he said, reminding the audience that although technology is upending the news industry, there will always be a market for alt-weeklies’ core product.

  4. Uncle Luke: “I don’t want these invisible chains being put on me,” said former 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell as he recalled what it was like to face obscenity charges and become the target of grandstanding politicians across the country as a result of his songs. “Without a doubt,” he continued, “race played a factor” in how politicians and law enforcement reacted to 2 Live Crew’s music in the early 1990s.

    As the featured guest at AAN’s Free Speech Lunch, Campbell engaged in a lively discussion with local CBS reporter Jim DeFede, who started off by reciting the lyrics of “Me So Horny” as if it were spoken-word poetry.

    Campbell discussed his obscenity trial, defended Paula Deen, and — just one day before George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin — talked about how race influences the presumption of guilt in America:

  5. Longform Heavyweights: A rock-star panel of Matt Taibbi, Mike Sager, and Don Van Natta, Jr. shared tips and anecdotes from their years in the trenches of longform journalism. The f-bombs flew liberally while the trio discussed the craft of writing, the benefits/perils of Twitter, and how persistence can help you get that one last detail to make or break a story (e.g. Van Natta was able to exctract from a tight-lipped White House that President Obama played golf prior to the Osama Bin Laden raid, which he then used for his lede).

  6. New Ideas: It’s a huge part of what AAN gatherings are all about. Companies offering innovative products to help alt-weeklies generate more revenue and operate more efficiently. Didn’t have a chance to visit with all of the exhibitors at the convention? You can visit their virtual booths: AdPerfect, ALTeditor, Bar-Z, Brown Paper Tickets, Circulation Verification Council, Columbia Journalism School, Kostizi, Libercus, The Media Audit, Metro Creative Graphics, MobiTen, Newspaper Manager, Local On, PlanChat, Plus.io, PopMount, RAM, Ranger Data, SecondStreet, Soket, SpinGo, TownWizard, and WeHaa.

  7. Collaboration and Commiseration: No one understands the unique challenges of your job except your peers, which is exactly why the roundtable sessions exist as a space to talk shop, get ideas from other papers, or just complain to a sympathetic audience:

  8. Beer in the Sessions? Beer in the sessions:

    Photo by Joran Oppelt, Creative Loafing

  9. Diverse Speakers: “I’m proud at the variety of voices we had speak in Miami,” said AAN executive director Tiffany Shackelford in an exclusive interview. “40 percent of our speakers were either women, people of color, or gay/lesbian. We still have plenty room for improvement, but I think we’re way ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity.”

  10. A Word For Our Sponsors: In addition to helping make this year’s conference possible, our sponsors offer fantastic products and services to the alternative publishing industry. Please check out the fine folks at:

    • Cont3nt.com: A realtime market for breaking news and video content.

    • Foundation: A battle-tested, full-featured content management system created by people who understand alt-weeklies.

    • Layar: A world leader in mobile augmented reality and interactive print.

    • MarketWired: A social communications leader offering best-in-class news distribution and reporting and state-of-the-art social media monitoring and analytics.

    • MediaTrax: Provides digital marketing infrastructure and end-to-end solutions that enable publishers to be more efficient and profitable.

    • Pre1: Offers SmartPublisher, a cross-platform, ad management software suite that integrates and automates the publishing workflow.

    • Publish88: Provides an easy and affordable mobile software platform for alt-weeklies.

    • Search Influence: Provides a full service approach to Search, Social and Online Advertising.

    • Town News: Creates affordable state-of-the-art web, print, and mobile content management solutions for news and media organizations.

    • VendAsta: A leading provider of white label online reputation management and social marketing tools.

  11. Hosts with the Most: Miami New Times editor Chuck Strouse and his team outdid themselves in hosting a great convention this year. Special thanks also to Miche Ratto for designing the conference logo and print program, Laine Doss for the dining recs and arranging to have food trucks outside of the hotel, Jose Duran for the restaurant and nightlife recommendations, and Kate Maier for producing this awesome video which perfectly encapsulates the awesomeness of the 2013 AAN Convention:

Thanks again to Miami New Times for letting us crash their pad, and we’ll see y’all in Nashville next year.