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Monday, June 20, 2005

Alt. Journalism & San Diego

So Wednesday, June 15, I set out for San Diego, landing at approximately 10:30 am in Mission Beach at The Surfer Beach Motel with the idea that I'd spend one day, before The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies annual conference began, lying on the sand. This day, as it happened, was submerged in what's called "June Gloom" in So-Cal, but I was pretty determined and sat on the beach all day ignoring the clouds and feeling generally contented, albeit exhausted and a bit cold. As late afternoon progressed, I ran into, on the boardwalk, Chad Oliveiri and Matt Walsh, editor and production manager, respectively, of The Rochester City Paper and we proceeded to walk for an hour or so looking for a good restaurant. We found one, called World Famous, which turned out to be the restaurant attached to our hotel. Although this could be construed as silly, it did, at least, give us some exercise before dinner. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my pedometer.
Thursday morning we mourned saying goodbye to the ocean and taxied over to The Westin in downtown San Diego. A nice hotel, although the elevators weren't working very well. Also, I should mention, that, somehow or another, I managed to forget to PACK MY CLOTHES, which required a lot of innovative dressing throughout the weekend and, ultimately, a bit of shopping.
The first event of the conference, was a meet, greet and eat on a hotel rooftop. I did plenty of the first two, forgot about the last one, but fortunately found some cheese fries later on in the evening at a karaoke bar in the gaslight district.
The conference itself was somewhat focused on "what's next," in terms of the competitive market for alt.weeklies like SFR. I always appreciate New York Times writer David Carr's seminars because, as a media writer whose roots are in alt.weeklies, he has a great way of putting together lots of different media images and ideas and looking at the big picture, while breaking down the different elements of that big picture.
David Carr
(In this photo it looks as though I am interviewing David Carr, but I am actually just writing down the address of a party for him. That's AAN Director Richard Karpel in the background on the phone).
My moderator stint began at 8:30 Friday morning where a group of us discussed newsroom management. I had played around with the idea of giving a presentation, myself, as I'm ridiculously proud of all the forms and things we have at SFR to ensure things run smoothly, but I controlled myself. I think the presenters did a good job, but we definitely ran a little short of time and I have no idea if anyone got anything out of it. I hope they did, but who knows. Well, actually I'll know when the ratings of the seminars come back. Yikes!
The highpoint, for me, was a presentation given by Mark Zusman, editor of Willamette Week, SFR's sister paper, and Nigel Jaquiss, a WW staff writer, who won the Pultizer Prize earlier this year for WW. A lot of editors who attended the conference also told me they felt inspired by this (although one said he felt like an ant). Nigel was unbelievably dogged with this story and, while I knew the story itself, I didn't realize how many dead ends he'd faced in reporting it. I'm telling you: SFR will win a Pulitzer some day! I'm on a mission, yo. WW also won a first-place AAN award for that story. SFR won two third-place awards and one honorable mention for cover design, illustration and education reporting. Although we're not big fans of prizes that aren't first place, there's a shitload of competition for AAN awards, so I was happy.
talking pultizer
(Here's Nigel talking about the story that won WW The Pulitzer. Westword Editor Patricia Calhoun moderated the panel)
One thing that was bothering me over the weekend was the weird politics around the convention. There are two alt.weeklies in San Diego, and the one hosting the conference was The San Diego Reaader, which is this kind of odd paper in AAN because of its conservative donations and philosophy. The other San Diego weekly, The San Diego City Beat is a real David to The Readers' Goliath, in terms of advertising and page count (and it's relatively new), but it's much more to my liking in terms of content and editorial mission. So I felt that it was kind of rough to have an AAN conference sponsored by one alt.weekly in a city with two, sort of unfair to the other paper (the conference must be hell of work for the sponsoring paper, but also makes them look good to the city, advertisers etc). I spoke with someone about this and had to agree with them that this will become more unavoidable as there are numerous cities with multiple AAN papers, but I can't help but feel that in those cases both papers should be given some joint sponsoring duty or something. (And I'm finagling for SFR to host the convention in 2007, but it's unclear if I'm getting anywhere on this finagling or not). However, I was cheered by The Stranger Editor Dan Savage's comments about this when he hosted the awards' luncheon. Savage is very, very funny and he pointed out that The Readers' cover story on mustaches (seriously) combined with its logo for the adconventionad1, made him question the source of The Readers' homophobia. (I believe he called the sailor shown here "the gayest thing he'd ever seen" but don't hold me to it).
Another low point was a very weird talk given by Newsweek writer David Gates which made, I'm sorry to say, so little sense to me that I actually walked out (along with 20 other people). I'm normally not one for walking out on anything but it was quite unbearable. As far as I can tell, Gates' entire raison d'etre was to tell us all how little he likes popular culture, which could have been funny, but he wasn't a very good speaker (although he did sound EXACTLY like Smith from The Matrix—a comparison that wouldn't mean much to him given that he eschews all movies and TV).
A seminar on immigration policy was much better and provided food for thought. As did a few spontaneosish editorial committee meetings where we discusssed upcoming programming for Medill, another journalism conference that is much more nuts and bolts (AAN tends to be a little more big picture, management stuff). I also got to visit a bit with some of our WW colleagues, as well as numerous editors I like from other alt. papers around the country. So: busy, busy, busy, but in a good way. And, as mentioned previously, I did spend a few hours in Tijuana and made it succesfully back over the border, despite being mistaken a few times for Mexican while there (I tan quick). I think that is it for now.
Here's the WW, SFR gang: WW Editor Mark Zusman, me, WW Special Sections Editor Byron Beck, SFR Publisher Andy Dudzik, WW Publisher Richard Meeker, SFR Ad Director Marcia Beverly and WW Ad Director Sam Hicks.