Publishers Invest in AAN Convention Despite Downturn

Like the rest of the newspaper business, many alt-weeklies are struggling through a rough economy right now. Advertisers are hurting and as a result page counts and profits are down.

Despite the tough business environment, many publishers are sending multiple employees to Tucson in late June. AAN News asked several of them why they decided not to cut their convention expenses even in this year of the Great Recession.

“It’s a way of rewarding people at a time when we’re really demanding a lot from them,” Seven Days publisher and co-editor Paula Routly says. She and four of her employees will be making the long, expensive slog from Burlington, Vt., to Tucson in order to attend.

Routly says that at the convention her staff “tends to convene in someone’s room at the end of the day and discuss whatever people are excited about. The more of them that are out there listening, and learning, the better.”

Charles Womack agrees that despite the economy it is more important than ever to send his staff to the industry convention. The publisher of Greensboro, N.C.’s Yes! Weekly, Womack is sending five employees to Tucson despite having to pay non-member rates.

“They are working harder and doing all they can,” says Womack, who also will be attending the convention. “This is a nice treat that will pay you, as an owner, in dividends all year long.”

Isthmus publisher Vince O’Hern, who has been to every AAN Convention since 1980, says the benefit to his staff — four of whom will be joining him in making the trip this year — is clear.

“It’s the best way I know to expose them to the most current thinking and knowledge in their various disciplines. They also come back with a lot of practical ideas that have been field-tested in other markets,” he says. “We also get a heads-up on trends and techniques in the bigger markets that we often find applicable to our own. The staff also enjoys and profits from establishing their own network of colleagues that they can access when knotty problems arise at work.”

The convention is also a way to step back from the weekly grind of putting out a newspaper.

“As soon as I get on the airplane, I’m in big-picture mode,” Routly says. “The view is not quite as inspiring from my desk. I try to go to as many seminars as I can, and there’s always a lot of valuable AAN intel kicking around the hotel bar.”

Womack concurs.

“It refuels my batteries,” he says. “I look at it as a reward for working so hard.”