Ninety-seven percent of those who attended this year’s Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in San Diego considered it an overall success, according to survey responses from AAN members.
Of the 542 members who attended the convention, 153 took the online survey. (The complete results of the survey may be downloaded as a 31-page PDF by clicking here.)
Though the convention was not flawless — slow hotel elevators and rambling speakers were mentioned — most attendees found the sessions informative and the parties enjoyable. A Friday night dinner at the Aerospace Museum was a favorite for most, with great food and opportunities to mix and mingle.
Parties aside, the overwhelming feedback was that attendees liked the programs that covered specific topics and included detailed solutions to problems, as well as opportunities to discuss with other members the ins and outs of how processes work at each paper. One East Coast editor would like to see more of this at next year’s convention.
“I’d still like to see programming on a more diverse slate of editorial issues — innovative approaches to calendar stuff, how to handle rethinking and re-approaching your paper (the secret theme of 2005, it seems) with existing staff, making the most of the Web editorially, maybe some more nutsy-boltsy process stuff,” the editor said in the survey. “But, as usual, I came away with some good ideas and pretty charged up in general.”
Most attendees found merit in the joint program sessions that addressed two or more elements of producing an alt-weekly, such as editorial and design. Most highly rated were New York Times media reporter David Carr’s survey of faux alts and Fortune magazine design director Robert Newman’s presentation on strengthening a paper’s visual appearance while making it easier to read.
“Bob Newman was outstanding. He gave us an impromptu critique the next day and was extremely helpful,” said Don Eggert, art director for Seven Days.
Another joint session by Tony Perkins about integrating blogs and other media into alt-weeklies was helpful to those more clueless about the blogging world, but several survey takers were skeptical about Perkins’ eagerness to introduce AlwaysOn, the media company he runs.
A few who attended the retail and business tracks said they wanted to see even more joint sessions that would bring their group together with others such as design and editorial.
“Communication and a realization of the importance of working together can be a benefit of having joint sessions with other departments,” said Dora Sison, production director at Gambit Weekly.
In the editorial track, those surveyed said they best liked “Public Figures/Private Lives,” in which Willamette Week staff used the paper’s story of former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt’s statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl as an example of how to deal with scandals involving public figures. Also highly rated was “Sequencing the Editorial and Production Process,” an open discussion of how the workflow is are handled at various papers, moderated by Santa Fe Reporter Editor Julia Goldberg.
“‘Sequencing the Editorial [and Production] Process’ and ‘Public Figures/Private Lives’ were excellent examples of something the convention might consider more of: letting papers get together and discuss specifics, whether process-related or story-related,” said Shala Carlson, managing editor at Gambit Weekly.
Similar processes should be used to help papers generate new ideas, said Lauren Newkirk Maynard, managing editor at Artvoice.
“Editors’ roundtables were a great opportunity to have intimate, focused discussions and trade tips and war stories…[but] along with trading stories about what works and what doesn’t, let’s bring in new ideas from outside the walls of alt-weeklydom,” she said.
In the business track, attendees especially liked financial studies consultant Seija Goldstein’s report on financial standards for alt-weeklies and management consultant Laura Dell’s comments and discussion time in “Building and Keeping a Productive Workforce.”
“Laura Dell was another speaker you just couldn’t get enough of,” said Dee Ann Cook, business manager at Pacific Northwest Inlander. “It would have been great to have been able to spend more time with the members attending, comparing and sharing ideas and problems with her commenting on how to handle them.”
The retail track best liked Isthmus associate publisher Linda Baldwin’s “Marketing, Promotion and Branding: AAN Best Practices” and a speech on the future of digital advertising by Susan Mernit of the consulting group 5ive.
The classified track’s favorite speaker was media management consultant Kathryn Thornton with her “Classified Product Bootcamp.” Attendees found her approachable and her ideas beneficial. Several of the classified people also wished they could have attended more than one of the many roundtables offered. Most of those were also rated highly.
The Design & Production attendees most enjoyed graphic designer and illustrator Martin Gee’s “Inspiration Is Everywhere: How to Find It,” which gave tips on how to break what he calls “designer’s block.”
“Martin was indeed inspiring. After his session I noticed the bathroom wallpaper texture,” said Kathy Bailey, administrative director at Isthmus.
A majority of Design & Production workers also liked Adobe application engineer Lisa Forrester’s speech on the new features of InDesign, though one art director said she would have liked a panel discussion on InDesign and its use as it is gaining popularity.
Overall suggestions for next year included adding a Web track as papers become more tech-savvy and expand their Web staff. Some suggested separate tracks for more advanced papers to keep information relevant. Many also asked for handouts from each session so they could still utilize ideas from missed sessions, since many good sessions overlap.
Lindsay Kishter is a junior at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and is interning at AAN for the summer.