Hanging with the AAN
Yesterday morning I had a good time leading a discussion on newspaper websites with a group of publishers from the AAN (Association of Alternative Newsweeklies). Their 3 day conference here was hosted by our own Charleston City Paper and included about 20 papers from across the country.
The alt papers play an important role. I couldn’t live in a town that doesn’t have a good one. While they’re trying to navigate the upheaval in the print world (due to the economy and internet) just like the mainstream papers, they are not suffering the same drastic declines in readership and subscriptions. Probably due to their key role within the community, focused/local content and willingness to adapt and experiment.
I shared a planning model we use to help conceptualize interactive experiences and looked at various news/media sites…both good and bad…from across the country. We wrapped up with a review of the attendees’ websites (as a group)…to draw conclusions about the opportunities they face. The overriding observation is that while many of the alt papers/sites are doing great things (and the Charleston City Paper is among the best in the country)….as a group they fit a pretty similar mold. There’s an opportunity to keep pushing the boundaries of storytelling, community participation and content generation, usability and utility, and inspired design. And ultimately, to keep pushing the “alternative” into the alternatives to separate from rest of the mainsteam pack.