Post-Convention Evaluations Reviewed

An Outsider Attempts to Make Sense of it All.

It’s a little strange for me to be writing about the AAN 1999 convention, because I wasn’t there. Nobody asked me to attend, and why would they? I wasn’t employed by AAN or anyone else at the time. I was wandering around New York, forlornly knocking on cybernetic doors and trying to convince Gotham I was indeed the “over-achieving go-getter with a proven sales record, fabulous media contacts and a let’s-get-it-on attitude” they were looking for. (This is an actual quote from a NY Times ad. So many hyphens; so little time.)

But on June 1, after the affair was safely concluded, AAN satrap Richard Karpel called with a job offer and now I sit in AAN’s spartan offices trying to piece together the events of the 1999 AAN convention from an uneven variety of sources: the convention program guide, the comments of sybaritic conventioneers (as revealed in their returned questionnaires), the coverage in the NY Press and my own experience of such events, which is that the main deal is staying adequately fed, liquored up and amused. If actual business gets transacted, that’s pure gravy…

Here are selected results from the “Post Convention Evaluation” :

The best-received seminars were: Seija Goldstein, “Budgeting and Reporting” in Business; Julio Melara, “It Only Takes Everything You’ve Got!” in Classified/Display Advertising; “Weekly Newspaper Design,” Robert Newman, in Design and Production; Bob Treadway’s “Questioning Skills,” and “Getting Past Resistance” in Display Advertising ; and “Steal This Story,” by David Carr in Editorial.

Roundtables in the various streams were judged as follows: Business, very useful or useful, 17 of 19 respondents; Classified Advertising, very useful or useful, 17 of 21; Design and Production, very useful or useful, 11 of 12 ; Display Advertising, very useful or useful, 18 of 31; Editorial, very useful or useful, a unanimous 13 of 13.

Of the annual members meeting, 30 people regarded it favorably, eight were lukewarm, three thought it poor, and 110 folks found it just didn’t apply.

People were generally pleased by the program book, although a significant minority (20%) thought the map of Memphis was inadequate.

In general, conventioneers were satisfied with the event (91%), and most plan to attend AAN 2000 in Phoenix, Ariz. (74%).

Comments, criticisms and kudos, chosen for clarity of expression, in no particular order:

“[The roundtable format is a] great forum for intimate, in-depth conversation. I would suggest one for papers with small staffs — how do you manage a newsroom with one or two reporters.”

“Legal Issues [Design and Production]: What a great seminar. The three lawyers really knew what issues journalists specifically face and how to present their cases…I’d like to see this one more in depth and presented to editorial next year.”

“Legal Issues: Because this was in the Design & Production stream, I thought it would be more about art and photo issues, which it wasn’t.”

“Since [Design and Production] seminars focus on the visual, handouts would help — especially for staff members unable to attend.”

“I always enjoy the convention — I just think that production/art direction is a stepchild. It seems even new media is getting more attention.”

“From a professional point of view, the convention was the best in years.”

“Convention content was the best in the last six years.”

“Best social event was the rooftop party. The music didn’t prohibit conversation. Always need more bartenders, though. And El Vez was inspired — we should throw people who didn’t get it out of the organization.”

“Seems like editorial awards winners could have received at least a certificate and a handshake at the Editorial Awards Luncheon.”

“Best trade show ever at an AAN convention.”

“The editorial seminars were pretty basic…there should be more for people who have been doing this for a while.”

“I would like to see a more diverse selection of roundtable topics for editorial.”

“I really abhor the way we treat the applying papers and their staffs. You would think such a group of talented writers on the AAN [admissions committee] would be intelligent and compassionate enough to realize that these new applying papers represent a huge portion of our future…This is the single ugliest feature of every convention and should not, of course, reflect on the host paper …”

“It appeared that [web seminar presenters Margaret Heffernan and Aaron Cohen] were suggesting we turn our sites into with editorial. That’s not the point of our sites. What would be informative would be to find out if anyone out there has been successful in selling any banner ads.”

“I really enjoyed interacting face-to-face with other people involved in circulation. The roundtables are a better arena for specific questions/problems/comments to be addressed. Excellent!”

“Perhaps the member’s meeting could be in the morning. By the time we get to important issues, everybody wants to head to the bar.”

“The thinking and planning …for [the annual member’s] meeting made all the difference.”

“Very important AAN issues were rushed through [the annual member’s meeting]. Officers did poor job of explaining and moderating. Bogus interpretation of voice votes. A debacle!”

“Thanks to the Memphis Flyer for being fantastic hosts!”

“Overall, I thought the convention was great but my display reps found it lacking…I think there is an assumption that people have basic skills in editorial and advertising. They don’t. More hands on stuff for small papers would be great.”

“We really need to focus more on the web and ask some key questions of papers about what they would like to see. Also have papers’ reps from the web speak or host sessions — we need to inspire our industry from within!”

There’s plenty more of this, but that’s enough to get the idea. Seminars that enthralled some bored others to tears. One guy hated El Vez, thought he was “cheesy”. Nobody was thrilled with long lines for sustenance, but who is? Many people offered concrete, practical suggestions for improving the convention, which indicates a willingness to remain engaged in the process. And with the exception of Michael Henningsen of Albuquerque, N.M.’s Weekly Alibi, who ran into some mugging and kidnapping trouble but luckily escaped serious injury, the convention seems to have been a reasonably happy and productive event.

Jimmy Askew did all the heinous, number-crunching work for this story.

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