Hidden Convention Lessons

Jordan Snowden is a Staff Writer at Pittsburgh City Paper. She is among four NextGeneration/Diversity Scholarship recipient attendees at the 2019 AAN Convention, held July 11 – 13 in Boulder, Colorado. Here she shares her thoughts at this year’s conference.

Standing with a co-worker at The Rayback Collective on the first evening of this year’s AAN Convention in Boulder, Erik Cushman approached us. A publisher at Monterey Country Weekly for over 20 years, he was far from a convention newbie. 

I, on the other hand, just started working at Pittsburgh City Paper in August of 2018, and it was my first time attending anything AAN related. To make matters embarrassingly worse, my introvert side had kept me from talking to a single person besides other PGH City Paper staff all day. 

So, when Cushman came up to introduce himself, my first question was, “As an experienced conference attendee, what’s the best advice you have for a first-timer?”

His answer: “Talk to everyone.”

There’s a reason why conferences and conventions don’t stop at sessions and speaker talks. The parties, happy hours, and even catered meals held are a chance for attendees to mix and mingle with like-minded individuals that most might not cross paths with otherwise. 

I didn’t think about the importance of talking with other alt-weeklies until I was sitting on the plane home. Reflecting back, I realized that there’s typically one alt-weekly per major city, the staffs of which are ever dwindling as print media falls behind digital. This means besides connecting online or chatting with my co-workers, it’s a rarity to converse with those in the same niche. Yes, there are other journalists and newspapers that I can talk to in my area, but alt-weeklies can be profane and offbeat, a little bit informal, fun yet newsy at the same time. We’re not your mama’s newspaper. 

Therefore, what was probably more valuable to me than the sessions was hearing how other AAN members run their papers. Hearing about the struggles they face, which I thought was singular to my workplace; learning what works for them, what’s been going well; and most importantly, seeing young faces, knowing that fresh options and viewpoints are getting a chance to be heard. 

For anyone choosing to attend an AAN convention for the first time, mingle, mingle, mingle. Go to the after-hours events. Be open to new people and experiences. And learn from me — don’t forget your business cards.

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