Convention Attendees Weigh In

Washington City Paper Praised; Attendees Want More Programming Organized by Paper Size.

The survey results are in for the Washington soirÈe.

More than 140 convention attendees sharpened their quills and took aim in the grand AAN style: curt, critical and comedic. Ninety four percent said they “Agree” or “Strongly agree” with the statement that “Overall, the convention was a success.” Many also showered laurels upon convention host Washington City Paper for a job well done.

The questionnaire asked convention participants to rate this year’s seminars, social events, meetings and trade show. Conventioneers hailed the D.C. shebang as an overwhelming success, but still managed to fill the survey’s margins with a wide-range of gripes and suggestions.

Here’s what they had to say:


Clear favorites emerged in each program stream. In editorial, Robert Lystad’s presentation on libel and invasion of privacy was universally praised as valuable and informative. Christopher Hitchens’ rambling evaluation of the alternative press and Ralph Nader’s provocative seminar on business reporting drew large, mostly enthusiastic cross-stream crowds, and David Jackson’s “Source Management” workshop also received high marks.

Attendees in the classified stream found the greatest utility in the “Building Employment Advertising” and “Customer Survey” seminars. Many requested more roundtables and panel discussions organized by circulation size to make the workshops more valuable.

There was a great degree of disharmony in the answers provided by the respondents in the display stream. For instance, while at least two attendees claimed that Raymond Kinzer’s “Time and Information Management” seminar changed their life for the better (e.g., “He has totally changed the way I work”), many others gave Kinzer a big thumbs-down. Gloria Norman’s sales training seminar also tended to generate a bipolar response: most attendees rated it either “excellent” or “poor.” If there was any consensus, it was expressed by the small-paper sales personnel, who suggested that advertising panels include greater representation from among their ranks.

In the business stream, “Accounting for Non-Cash Revenue” generated the best response. The anti-trust panel and Anne Saunier’s “Performance Management” seminar also received high marks, while the circulation panel was a favorite among several AAN papers currently going to the mat with city governments over newsrack issues. Meanwhile, almost everyone agreed that the “Financial Standards” seminars failed to meet expectations. Most respondents blamed the presenter; others complained about “whining” from the audience.

Participants in the design and production stream called Dan Zedek and Robert Newman’s “Fast Cheap and Out of Control” seminar “the best of the bunch.” They also spoke highly of the design critique and the web design and Photoshop seminars. Several participants suggested joint editor/art director presentations for big-picture discussions about design.

Nearly everyone attending electronic publishing seminars said they would like to see the stream expanded, citing the leaps-and-bounds growth of every aspect of electronic publishing. “More. Different. Better, bigger,” wrote one respondent.

Overall, the survey results show that AAN convention attendees want more roundtables and small discussion groups, with split streams for larger and smaller papers. They want more small-group networking opportunities, and seminars on more specific practical topics. They would like to see better investigative journalism programs, more focus on arts coverage and listings, and further discussion about defining and redefining the roles of alternative newspapers.

Social Events The Spy Club — site of the opening night cocktail party — was roundly panned as a dark, dank cave; respondents called it too crowded and too noisy and bemoaned the ill-prepared bartenders.

“How long, oh how long, will we continue to have parties in cramped subterranean spaces where the lines to get drinks stretch for miles and my only emotional response is to want to flee? Please, no more underground danceterias,” wrote Nashville Scene Editor Bruce Dobie.

On the other hand, the Spy Club appearance of D.C. Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry was cheered as a “strange but welcome touch” by many attendees who appreciated his verbal sparring with Washington City Paper Editor David Carr. Comments on the Thursday night “Eat With Your Own Kind” dinners ranged from “fabulous” to “fiasco,” usually depending on the restaurant involved.

“The idea was solid, but the execution lacked substance (sustenance),” wrote one respondent, agreeing with many others who complained about “portions fit for a bird” and “a pathetic parade of trendy appetizers,” despite the good dinner company and networking opportunities.

The dinner for classified personnel seems to have been either the worst or the best of the lot, according to respondents who found the $30 burritos “a total joke” and others too blissfully tanked on margaritas to notice.

The Newseum reception and buffet was called “a classy event” and was generally trumpeted as the biggest success of the convention. Eighty three percent ranked the event “Excellent” or “Very good.”

“Good eats and drinks, lots of room to mingle, cool stuff, top notch location” wrote one respondent, while Kathy Bailey of Isthmus exclaimed “Best venue of all AAN venues, bar none, for the last 8 years!! Open bar — yikes! What were they thinking!”

A few respondents, however, criticized the Newseum’s Gannett connection, as well as its “Disneyfication of news” and self-congratulatory mainstream corporate feel.

Most of the respondents who attended the final event at 9:30 Club featuring Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun considered it “a great end to a great week.” The by-now-familiar complaints about lack of food and bartenders were echoed here, and comments about the band betrayed some age disparity among convention attendees.

The survey comments suggest that most AAN members believe good food, plentiful drinks and an environment conducive to socializing are the keys to successful convention events.

Luncheons The first annual advertising awards luncheon was generally considered a strong first effort. Sixty percent rated the luncheon “Excellent” or “Very good.” Nevertheless, participants made several suggestions to improve the event, including displaying the winners at the luncheon; distributing a book similar to the one presented in connection with the editorial awards; and elaborating on why specific ads were selected as winners.

“The ad awards should be not just a pat on the back luncheon, but an educational process as well,” wrote one respondent. Attendees found First Amendment luncheon guest speaker Seymour Hersh to be rambling and off-topic, stimulating and entertaining, thoughtful and lively (sometimes all at once) as he carried on about roadblocks encountered during his reporting for “Dark Side of Camelot” and other books. Hersh was praised for his passion and commitment to journalism, and 78 percent called the event “Excellent” or “Very good.”

The editorial awards luncheon drew a mixed response for its self-deprecating tone. Some thought that MC Jack Shafer was “an embarrassing speaker,” “generally obnoxious and disrespectful to the winners,” “flippant,” and “snide.” On the other hand, Shafer’s performance left several others begging for more.

Meetings There was little feedback regarding the Thursday general session meeting, perhaps because few respondents attended the event. Most attendees felt the meeting could benefit from better publicity and a clearer purpose.

“I do think it’s a good idea, but it seemed as if most people didn’t even know it was happening,” wrote one respondent. Several attendees suggested baiting the event with food and drinks for better attendance.

The annual members meeting also received a mixed reaction, although just about everyone agreed it was a big improvement over last year’s contentious affair in Montreal. “Even the threat of a parliamentarian lurking behind [AAN President] Albie [Del Favero] had a calming effect,” wrote Phoenix Newspaper Group’s Clif Garboden, referring to attorney/journalist Henry Walker, who served as AAN counsel during the meeting.

“There is no fair way to put a time limit on the discussion of ugly issues, but we wish there were,” he continued. “Our only solution may be to hire a salsa band.”

At least one respondent seconded New York Press founder Russ Smith’s suggestion — raised during the meeting — to require all current member papers to resubmit an application for membership.


AAN members suggested various ploys to improve the convention trade show, many of which centered around the popular theme of throwing additional cocktail parties. Attendees said they would like to see a wider variety of trade show exhibitors and requested that measures be taken to make the trade show a higher traffic area.

The program book was uniformly well-received. Attendees wrote, “perfect,” “the most informative and useful program book I’ve seen,” and “no complaints whatsoever.” However, that didn’t stop most of them from asking for next year’s book to include a map of the city and the area around the hotel.

Fifty two percent rated the convention daily newsletter “neutral.” Comments revealed that the newsletter was difficult to find and should be more prominently displayed. Attendees also suggested having more writers and reporters work on the newsletter to better cover daily convention developments.

The best news from the survey is that nearly all of the attendees are looking to the future — 89 percent plan to attend next year’s AAN convention in Memphis.