AAN West: Craig Newmark, Ponytails and Belly Dancers

february 1, 2006  03:30 pm
AAN West: Craig Newmark, Ponytails and Belly Dancers
IRE's Brant Houston leads the Better Watchdog Workshop.
San Francisco was invaded by 261 enthusiastic newspaper professionals last weekend when the AAN West conference hit town. Seminars were held at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway hotel, which provided lovely views of the city to members who stayed overnight. (Although we did hear complaints that the conference rooms were a wee bit chilly.)

The highly-anticipated Saturday keynote speech by Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, passed without physical skirmish, despite a lively question-and-answer session. After warning AAN members that "the scariest thing about me is my sense of humor," Newmark concentrated on the customer service and community-building aspects of Craigslist before touching on his citizen journalism venture. Newmark said that he considers himself "very much an amateur, a dilettante at this stuff" and that while citizen journalism "excites" him, he also realizes the importance of professional journalism.

Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark delivering the keynote speech
After the speech, there were 25 minutes of questions, and many more were left unanswered due to lack of time. Two questioners focused on the financial effects of Craigslist's free classified service; John Saltas of Salt Lake City Weekly even compared Newmark to a Vietnam bomber who is unaware of the collateral damage he creates on the ground. On a lighter note, Newmark drew attention to the skull necklace worn by Westword's Patty Calhoun, who was seated at the same table as the featured speaker when lunch was served.

(To read Tim Redmond's take on Newmark's speech in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, click here. Video and audio files of the speech will be available for download before the end of the week. In addition, AAN members may request a free copy of the DVD version by sending an e-mail to amyg@aan.org.)

The seminars, while less controversial, were -- for the most part -- equally lively, especially Michael Ninness' "Photoshop Techniques." Ninness' animated style and impressive shortcuts led to audible "oohs" and "aahs" in the conference room. Ellen Meany's design seminars were also quite engaging, and we're not just saying that because she's the chair of AAN's Design and Production committee.

Highlights of the editorial track included Willy Stern's high-energy "Nuts-and-Bolts Reporting Tips," two of which were "use blackmail" and "suck up to secretaries." (We tried to video the peripatetic Stern, but simply couldn't keep him in frame.)

  AAN West panel
Nigel Jaquiss, Patty Calhoun and Mark Zusman reveal the story behind the story.
There was also a Mark Zusman two-fer of informative seminars: "The Essential Ingredients of a Great Story" and "Lessons Learned From a Pulitzer-Winning Investigation," with Zusman's Willamette Week colleague, Nigel Jaquiss, and moderator Patty Calhoun filling out the panel on the latter. Among other things, Jaquiss revealed that calling a source a "fucking liar" while being recorded is not always a good strategy.

And the subject-to-story discussion on housing and urban development broke an AAN record, with three male ponytails represented on a single panel.

In retail sales, the "Nontraditional Revenue" seminar by Stacey Lindsay had people buzzing. And we hope that all classifieds reps in attendance at the Randy Shoults/Kelly Wirges tag-team sales session are dialing themselves into prospecting euphoria.

Mike Lenehan and beverage
Michael Lenehan, executive editor of the Chicago Reader, hoists someone else's drink as Boston Phoenix's Clif Garboden looks on.
Then there were the parties. The cocktail reception on Friday night was buzzing with activity, from a vigorous discussion between alt-weekly pillars Bruce Brugmann (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Clif Garboden (Boston Phoenix) and Ken Neill (Memphis Flyer) to a raucous Sacramento News & Review table. Several attendees took the party elsewhere once the hotel reception closed, leading to some blurry eyes on Saturday morning. And Saturday night it happened again, as the Bay Guardian played host to a well-attended party, featuring free drinks and belly-dancers, at the funky SWIG Bar.

Watch for a photo gallery online by the end of the week.

We will announce the results of our post-conference survey later this month. If you attended AAN West but did not receive an e-mail link to the online survey, please contact Debra Silvestrin at debra@aan.org.