AAN East Roundup: Lunch with Atrios

Before introducing Duncan Black at AAN East’s Saturday luncheon, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ executive director, Richard Karpel, took a poll. How many in the crowd, he asked, had ever read Eschaton, Black’s influential lefty blog that he publishes under the pseudonym Atrios?

About 15 percent of the attendees raised their hands — an astonishingly low percentage for a media-savvy group that thinks of itself as innovative and edgy. After all, Eschaton, which gets about 100,000 hits a day, is required reading for anyone trying to understand “the new media landscape.”

That was the title of Black’s talk, though the reserved, 33-year-old ex-economist and Media Matters senior fellow spent more time talking about how conservatives manipulate the press than he did about blogs. He also addressed how, thanks to the Web, news has become a conversation. When newspapers print a story, he said, “That’s just the first step. That’s where it starts.”

During a Q&A session, Black advised alternative weekly editors to “learn to exploit blogs” by emailing certain bloggers with links to stories. Attention from a prominent blogger can drive traffic to a paper’s Web site and spread a story far, fast. “Blogs are a way for your stories to get a wider audience,” he said.

After his presentation, a handful of (mostly) under-35 fans lined up to meet him. Fiona Morgan, a staff writer for Independent Weekly in Durham, N.C., asked him to sign her reporter’s notebook.

“I do kind of think he’s a celebrity,” she said, somewhat sheepishly. “I think it’s just funny that more people in the room don’t seem to think so.”