Alternative Journalism Writers Workshop 2010

AAN's popular workshop for alternative newsweekly writers and reporters took place at the Tropicana Las Vegas on Oct. 29-30, 2010. Instructors addressed alternative approaches to news coverage and provide training in investigative and narrative techniques.

Click here for the full Storified recap.

Friday, Oct. 29
3 pm
Julia Goldberg, editor Santa Fe Reporter and AAN editorial chair, and Steve Sebelius, editor, CityLife, AAN editorial committee member.

3:15 pm
Welcome to Vegas!
Who better to fill you in on the town than an investigative reporter who started out as a taxi driver? George Knapp, chief reporter for Vegas' Channel 8's I-Team investigative unit and a weekly columnist for AAN member Las Vegas CityLife will kick things off with a talk on Vegas and investigative reporting. Knapp has been the chief reporter on Channel 8's I-Team investigative unit since 1995, and has won four regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a national Edward R. Murrow award for his investigative stories on the voter registration fraud in the Clark County election of 2004. He also is a nine-time winner of the Mark Twain Award for best news writing from the Associated Press, and a UPI pick for best in the nation for Individual Achievement by a Journalist for his UFO series.
Speaker: George Knapp

4:30 to 5:30 pm
Steal These Ideas!
Attendees will participate in an AAN favorite: 60 story ideas in 60 minutes. Everyone will share stories they've done or want to do, with the aim of generating a list of stories attendees can take home and implement. Prizes will be awarded for the best stories.
Moderator: Jimmy Boegle, Tucson Weekly

Saturday, Oct. 30
9:30 to 10:30 am
You're Not Nearly as Happy in Your Work as You Should Be

Award-winning magazine journalist Dan Baum will discuss why writers need to dream big and swing for the bleachers in their reporting and writing. Registrants will be provided in advance copies of Baum's New Yorker article, "Two Soldiers," and Harper's essay, "Happiness is a Worn Gun: My Concealed Weapon and Me," which will be discussed in his presentation. The author of three non-fiction books, Baum also has written for numerous national magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wired and Playboy.
Speaker: Dan Baum

10:45 to 11:45 am
Back to Basics
No matter what form journalism takes, the fundamentals of reporting and writing are essential. This session will return to where we began: the basics. Two veteran editors will discuss best practices and tips for everything from beat-building to generating story ideas to writing leads. Attendees are encouraged to bring questions and their own ideas. A master list of tips will be generated and made available through the AAN resource library following the conference.
Presenters: Anne Schindler, Folio Weekly and Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

Noon to 1 pm
Adventures in Computer-Assisted Reporting

Data-scraping, interactive map-building, embedded documents -- it's all in a day's work for today's computer-savvy reporter. Or is it? This session will provide an overview of some of the user-friendly (as in, you don't need to know a lick of html) and free (or in some cases affordable) tools and sites available to advance journalists' computer-assisted reporting projects. Attendees also will receive a compendium of available resources for everything from creating embedded databases to building custom data scrapers.
Presenter: Julia Goldberg, Santa Fe Reporter

1:15 to 3:30 pm
Lunch & Critiques
All attendees will work in small groups with an AAN editor to critique a published story, and/or to troubleshoot a forthcoming project. Attendees will be assigned editors and reading ahead of time.

3:45 to 4:45 pm
"I Hope I Didn't Keep You Waiting Too Long..." Writing Profiles: The Glam Life of a Journo.

In this session, award-winning journalist Mike Sager will share stories and tips for interviewing and profile writing. Among others, Sager has interviewed Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Paris Hilton, Jack Nicholson, Snoop Dogg, Kirk Douglas, Julia Child, Ray Charles, Fay Dunaway, Evel Knievel, Roseanne and Rod Steiger, and is credited with creating Esquire's popular "What I've Learned" interview format. For his stories, he also has lived with with a crack gang in Los Angeles; ex-pat Vietnam veterans in Thailand; a 625 pound man in El Monte, CA; teenage pitbull fighters in the Philadelphia barrio; Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; heroin addicts on the Lower East Side; Aryan Nations troopers in Idaho; U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton; Tupperware saleswomen in suburban Maryland; high school boys in Orange County. Eight of his articles have been optioned for or have inspired Hollywood films.
Speaker: Mike Sager

5 to 6 pm
How Our Pot Coverage Became the Toke of the Town
Sometimes the best stories are right under your nose -- or at least in the back of your own paper, where Westword's medical marijuana ads suddenly appeared in early 2009. Reporter Joel Warner did his first piece on the MMJ industry that February and continued to cover the scene on the web -- but within six months the situation had gotten so explosive that we decided it was time for another cover story. And this time, we added weekly dispensary reviews, a gimmick that's paid off with endless international attention -- but has also provided a truly useful reader service. In this session, we'll talk about nuts and bolts reporting for print and the web -- and also provide audio-visual evidence of why the mainstream media will never be able to report well on pot.
Presenters: Patricia Calhoun and Joel Warner, Westword

Dan Baum has been a staff writer for The New Yorker, as well as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is the author of "Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty," "Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure" and the national best-selling "Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death and Life in New Orleans," which was named an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review. He has written numerous articles for national magazines, many of which can be read at his website,

Jimmy Boegle is the editor of the Tucson Weekly, the chair of AAN's diversity committee and a member of the editorial committee. He is veteran of Las Vegas CityLife, the Reno News & Review and The Associated Press. Julia Goldberg and Patty Calhoun are his personal heroes.

Patricia Calhoun has the world's shortest resume. After graduating from Cornell University, she founded the SandPaper, a weekly on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. In 1977, she started Westword, an alternative weekly in Denver, where she's been the editor ever since. Her columns have been awarded the Golden Quill, the Unity Award and the national Women in Communications prize, in 2006 and again this year. Her career highlights including serving as the president of AAN, interviewing President Bill Clinton (in flip flops!), and playing an actual reporter in John Sayles's movie Silver City.

Julia Goldberg is the editor of the award-winning The Santa Fe Reporter, and AANÍs editorial chair. She is also trying very hard to star in her own Zombie movie.

George Knapp has been the chief reporter on Channel 8's I-Team investigative unit since 1995, and has earned four regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a national Edward R. Murrow award for his investigative stories on the voter registration fraud in the Clark County election of 2004. Knapp has won a prestigious Peabody Award and 17 Emmy Awards. Nine times, he has won the Mark Twain Award for best news writing from the Associated Press. And in 1990, his series about UFOs was selected by United Press International as best in the nation for Individual Achievement by a Journalist.

Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. He has been called "the Beat poet of American journalism." A former Washington Post staffer under Bob Woodward, he worked closely with Hunter S. Thompson during his years as a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. Sager is the author of three collections of non-fiction and one novel. He has served for more than a dozen years as a writer at large for Esquire. In 2010 he won the American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine award for profile writing. A former intern at Atlanta's Creative Loafing, he lives now with his son in La Jolla, Calif. For more information, please see

Anne Schindler was hired as a staff writer at Folio Weekly in 1995, and took over as editor in 2003 following a bloodless coup. She previously worked as a contributing writer for the now-defunct Twin Cities Reader in Minneapolis. Anne has won several AltWeekly Awards, including in the Investigative Reporting and column-writing categories.

Steve Sebelius began his career working for his hometown newspaper, the weekly Huntington Beach Independent. Shortly thereafter, he was hired by the Pomona Progress Bulletin, where he began covering politics, a lifetime avocation. In late 1999, Sebelius was hired by the Review-Journal to be that newspaper's political columnist, and wrote more than 800 columns and covered three elections and the contentious 2003 session of the Nevada state Legislature. In 2005, after Review-Journal parent Stephens Media LLC purchased CityLife, Sebelius was named editor. He currently writes the award-winning weekly column "Coffee & Outrage," and a daily blog about Nevada politics at Under his tenure, CityLife has twice been recognized for general excellence. Sebelius is a member of AAN's editorial committee.

Hank Sims is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and has worked at the North Coast Journal for the last seven years, five as editor. He has written for more than 30 publications as a staff writer and freelancer, including the LA Times, the California Journal, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Arcata Eye.

Joel Warner is a staff writer at Westword.