Responses to Your Convention Complaints

Here’s the complete post-convention survey from Tucson (pdf). Although I blogged about an earlier version a few weeks ago, I’m posting this update because it includes respondents’ comments. Plus it has a nifty desert-themed design!

We always get lots of very good ideas from the comments, and this year was no exception. But in general, AAN members use the essay component of the survey to tell us what they didn’t like about the convention. Reading the comments in previous surveys, I often wished that I could respond to particular complaints. Now that I have a blog my wish has come true.

Certain themes emerge from the comments. Those that appear below without quotes are restatements of some of those themes.

Comment: The music was too loud at the evening events.

Response: We know. Every year we tell the host paper to eliminate the music or make sure it’s not too loud, especially at the opening night reception. And every year they ignore us. I bet that if the people who complained about the music in this year’s survey were to host the convention, we would still end up with music that was too loud. At this point, I just think it’s in the AAN DNA.

Comment: Dan Savage was dismissive/disrespectful during the awards ceremony.

Response: Dan felt bad about his performance. I know that because he apologized to me as soon as he left the stage. Dan always tries to do something a little different. His performance as emcee in Madison in 2002 was laugh-out-loud funny and that awards lunch was one of the most memorable events in AAN convention history. As Ken Neill said to me afterwards, it should have been an HBO special. Dan emceed again in 2006 in San Diego and while it wasn’t quite as good as Madison, most attendees were thrilled with the event. He spoke at our Medill writers conference a few years ago and was inspiring. In Tucson he tried something a little different and it didn’t work. It happens.

The funny thing is, when I originally asked Dan to host the awards this year, he wrote back, “feel like i should show up, just to provide a little moral support.” In some ways his performance did just the opposite, but it’s clear that’s not what he intended. I just think he had too much on his plate and wasn’t able to prepare properly.

Dan isn’t a fan of journalism awards. In fact, he feels so strongly about it that he doesn’t allow his paper, The Stranger, to enter the AAN contest even though there are others there who would prefer to join the competition. The first two times he hosted the awards he used humor to transmute his disdain into something positive. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in Tucson. But if it’s up to me we’ll still give Dan the mic whenever he wants it.

Comment: “The food, while good, was limited — snacks, not dinner. So we had to eat dinner back at the resort, which was very expensive. I would have liked some arrangement for the off-resort evening events to involve some places we could get a real meal at less-than-resort prices.”

Response: There was another comment similar to this one, and they both bewildered me. We were in Tucson for three nights, and on two of those night our hosts at the Weekly organized events in downtown Tucson so people could see more of the city and have access to a number of different dining options. What am I missing? (The opening-night reception was held at the resort because we all agreed it wouldn’t make sense to stick people back in buses an hour or two after they got off an airplane.)

Comment: “I’d have loved it if we’d were booked at a hotel closer to the city and local businesses.”

Response: Although most attendees loved the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort (two-thirds gave it the highest-possible rating) there were several comments that echoed the sentiments expressed above, and two or three others from people who just don’t like resorts as a matter of principal. We saw the same split in opinion when we stayed at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix in 2000 — the only other time in the convention’s 32-year history that the event was hosted at a resort.

Comment: “It sure would be nice to start recording the sessions (audio or video) and offering that to people who can’t afford to come, and those of us who would like to attend more than one session at a time.”

Response: Back in the days before the advent of cheap digital technology, it was too expensive for us to record the sessions. So we invited companies that record and sell convention-seminar audio tapes to do it for us. But they were never able to sell enough tapes to make it worth their while, so they quit coming. Now AAN owns its own digital recording equipment, so expense isn’t the issue. Now the problem is — Who’s going to do the recording and can they do it well enough to make the tapes useful? Turns out that our editor, Jon Whiten, is pretty good at it, so we had him record video of several sessions at this year’s conference. You can access the videos here.

Comment: “Members need to be more respectful of the speakers. AAN members chronically enter the seminars late, leave early, leave and return during the presentations — makes our industry look very unprofessional.”

Response: You’re right. But it’s not an AAN thing. It happens at all conventions. Speaking of boorish behavior, one thing that was new this year was widespread use of smartphones to check email and surf the web during the sessions. (I plead guilty.) This puts a lot of pressure on the speakers. They better be compelling, because if they’re not we’re going to our phones.

Comment: “I think fewer people lessened the Asch effect. It seemed (to me) to result in more diversity of ideas and strategies being shared/discussed. Great result from a not-so-great originating circumstance.”

Response: The Asch effect? The only Asch I know is Moe, the guy who recorded Woody Guthrie. So I had to Google this one. From Wikipedia: “The Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. These are also known as the ‘Asch Paradigm’.”

Comment: “We should make an effort to hold future conventions at independent hotels.”

Response: The answer to this one is somewhat complex. We’ll get back to it next week.