YES! Weekly gains fans, friends at AAN convention

by Brian Clarey

I failed last week, and it’s not sitting well. I had a goal; I had a plan; I worked my agenda. And still I couldn’t make it happen. I failed. And here’s how it all went down. The lobby of the Philadelphia downtown Marriott has a circular bar to the rear, with a water feature right in the middle of it – a shallow, tiled pool with an abstract fountain that sprays a fine mist into the rarified air. YES! Weekly marketing executive Brad McCauley swears it looks like a vagina, and I explain to him the how Rorschach theory applies to abstract art – what you see says more about you than the piece itself. McCauley, a notorious swordsman, doesn’t appreciate the subtlety. It’s Thursday, and we’re here for the annual convention for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, a body to which we are up for membership. We’ve already been denied recommendation by the executive board, but I didn’t get to where I am by taking no for an answer. To that end, we’re actively campaigning – flyers, copies of the paper, a heavy docket of schmoozing and publicity. I want to meet as many people as I can, let them know we’re here, tell them about our paper, how hard we work on it, our vision for the future. It starts here in the bar today and will wind through until Saturday when I make my final pitch to the members and the board. Today I am optimistic. Everybody fails at one time or another. Everybody stumbles. Everybody falls. I’ve seen my share of disappointment, but I’m riding a pretty good wave of personal and professional successes. I’m witty and charming. I’m driven and focused. I can make this happen. Thursday night I’m working the welcome party at the 30th Street Station. I meet the guys from Philly, the crew from Buffalo, NY and a guy from the New York Press. I meet someone from the Creative Loafing chain and a guy from Birmingham absolutely blows my mind with ideas to generate more cash flow. I meet many more, but the highlight perhaps is the group of Teamsters I befriend – they sneak me the punch code to their private bathroom, which is probably not as nice as the public restroom, but it makes me feel like a badass to pee in there among their lockers and cool Teamster stuff. I think it goes well. Friday is meetings and seminars. I spend the afternoon thinking about torts, learning new and not so exciting ways to avoid getting sued. I’ve met Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, who has been running in our paper since 2005. I hire Gustavo Arellano, who writes the Ask a Mexican! column that I absolutely love (you will, too – check in next week). In the evening we take a tour of the Northern Liberties neighborhood, an enclave of hipsters, art galleries and cool restaurants. I meet some folks from Wisconsin and Cincinnati at a bar and tell them about my plan to get into the association. It turns out they hold votes for tomorrow’s meeting and they’re sympathetic to my case. I’m starting to think maybe I can close this thing. I end the night playing croquet in a hotel room with the guys from Birmingham and the Loaf. One of my new friends convinces me to ditch my prepared statement and speak tomorrow simply and from the heart. I take his advice, because he is much smarter than I am. I am still optimistic. No one plans to fail. No one wants to lose. We set goals for ourselves and then check them off the list as we realize them, and it feels good. Accomplishment feels good. Failure does not. Saturday I spend the morning with the Dick, my old college roommate who has come in from Manhattan to his hometown for a couple days. We jacuzzi and sauna and steam. We work on my head, which needs to be right for my presentation. I clean myself up and put on a suit. I walk off my nervous energy and smoke many cigarettes. When the time comes, after some unexpected support from Mountain Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes, I step up to the mike. I am tired. I am nervous. I am sick of talking about myself and my paper. It doesn’t go well. When the dust settles, I am 12 votes shy of acceptance. Failure is a great teacher and a potent humbler. We learn more from failure than we do from success. And if you don’t let failure get you down, let it stop you in your tracks, it can be an important part of reaching your goals. I know all this, but it is small consolation. I have failed. There’s more to the weekend, of course, including a speech to the association by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and a multi-course meal at Morimoto, the best Japanese restaurant in the city and the greatest I’ve been to in a good long time. I’ve made dozens of contacts, learned a small handful of vital newspapering lessons, gotten in touch with my staff on a deeper level than regular work hours permit. The convention is a rousing success on all fronts save for one: our primary objective. I failed. But I’ll be back next year, and I will nail this sucker down. To comment on this story e-mail Brian Clarey at