A Good Show, by Any Measure

A real-life statistical inventory of last week’s AAN convention in New Orleans would include totals for hangovers suffered, bowls of gumbo consumed, t-shirts soaked with sweat and money lost at Harrah’s.

But that’s beyond the scope of our coverage, so we’ll have to make do with the traditional yardsticks: 521 attendees, 44 exhibits, seven new AAN members and one great party.

That 521 paid attendance figure is 20 percent below last year’s Phoenix tally of 657. It certainly didn’t feel like there were less people, however, with meeting rooms in the hotel continually packed to capacity. And while we heard some grumbling about the Ritz-Carlton’s wanton luxury (e.g., marble floors, Louis XIV-era furniture) and elevator-maze, only the most committed ascetic could find fault with the amazing, downy beds.

The Big Easy itself charmed the socks off the most jaded AAN-ite.

“It makes Omaha look silly,” said Marty Floerchinger, Omaha Reader general sales manager, after a half an hour in the city.

For some, the charm came with a trace of nervousness at the flagrant decadence of the Vieux Carre. Cartoonist Max Cannon of Red Meat had a solution: “If you don’t want to get scammed, I’m selling, for $2.95 per person, stick-on Aaron Neville head moles, so you fit right in.” The moles, he explained, function like Lee Press-on Nails, so they can be removed and reused again and again.

“And they’re made from real flesh,” added cartoonist John Backderf of The City by Derf.

From the hot sauce in the goodie bags to the hot zydeco and R&B at night, Gambit Weekly Publisher Margo DuBos and her staff rolled out the magic carpet ––at Storyville District on Wednesday and the Party with Your Own Kind bashes on Thursday evening. By acclamation, however, Friday night’s extravaganza at Mardi Gras World was the real doozy. AAN was treated to a Crescent City musical revue in a “carnival den” warehouse filled with Mardi Gras floats and larger-than-life papier mache’ animated figures. Definitely freaky.

Some lucky folks also got a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see a spectacular New Orleans jazz funeral. R&B legend Ernie K-Doe’s funeral second line, led by a horse-drawn carriage and a jazz band, snaked through the city from Gallier Hall to Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2. K-Doe, famous for his hit single “Mother-in-Law,” was the “baddest motorscooter and the Greatest Boy-Child ever conceived at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana.”

During the day, attendees were treated to a garden of alternative delights, ranging from Hazel Reinhardt’s widely praised presentation on demographics, to Leslye Geller’s description of the agency side of the recruitment business and Alice Neff Lucan’s popular legal seminars, to talks by gifted writer/raconteurs like Rick Bragg of The New York Times and Andrei Codrescu of NPR and Gambit Weekly . And between sessions they sampled the offerings at the biggest and most dynamic trade show in AAN history, where exhibitors ranging from cartoonists to classified software vendors displayed their wares.

Seija Goldstein’s financial analysis of three-year trends showed the alternative newsweekly business holding its own in a general economic downturn. Revenue was flat and profit margins weakened in 2000, but the precipitous decline that has battered the dailies was nowhere to be seen.

On Thursday, the sixth annual Alternative Newsweekly Awards were presented, with Gambit Weekly picking up a total of nine awards, including four first-place prizes. The Texas Observer’s Nate Blakeslee was the big individual winner, picking up two first-place awards and one second.

On Friday, Oliver Stone battled jet lag to give the First Amendment Luncheon speech. Forced to take a red-eye from L.A. after missing his original flight, Stone lined up and knocked back two Perriers, a Canada Dry club soda, a lemonade, and a Shandy (half beer/half lemonade) while chiding the media in general and the alternative newsweekly industry in particular for cynicism and complacency. Some found Stone’s speech rambling, while others saw flashes of brilliance. All agreed it was written and delivered with great care and attention to detail.

Business also was committed at the convention.

On Wednesday, the Board of Directors had the enviable task of deciding how to deal with a $200,000 budget surplus for the current fiscal year that ends September 30. The Budget committee had recommended that $150,000 of the surplus be allocated to additional programs and services in the 2001-02 fiscal year. The Board, however, decided to contribute $50,000 of that to the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The program provides a three-month summer course for minority students to encourage them to consider alternative journalism as a career.

The closing act of the convention was the annual members’ meeting on Saturday, where seven new papers were admitted to AAN’s ranks: The Georgia Straight , Vancouver, British Columbia; The Portland Phoenix , Portland, Maine; RipSaw News , Duluth, Minn.; Pasadena Weekly , Pasadena, Calif.; Weekly Planet , Sarasota, Fla.; Free Times , Columbia, S.C.; and Local Planet , Spokane, Wash.

After the new members were anointed, the attendees elected nine Board members—including a new President, Russ Martineau of Willamette Week —and approved a $1.23 million budget that included the expenditures approved by the Board, and reduced the donated ad inventory from six half-pages to two.

And so the 2001 AAN Convention ended, with members rushing to catch planes or quench their thirst for booze and banter in the many bars at the hotel, throughout the rest of the city, and at a final unofficial convergence at Rock ‘n Bowl, located in the same midtown neighborhood as Gambit Weekly .

For complete convention coverage from the Convention Daily Newsletter, feel free to download any of the three issues published on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.