By: Joe Strupp
Anyone who thought the Associated Press Managing Editors had made a mistake by sticking to plans for their annual conference to be in New Orleans this year may be in for a surprise. Advance registration for the yearly gathering, set for next week in the Crescent City, is actually better than usual.
APME Executive Director Mark Mittelstadt said at least 270 journalists had signed up for the four-day event, set for Oct. 25-28, a marked increase over the 230 who attended the 2005 conference in San Jose and the highest since the 2002 event in Baltimore. A total of about 400 attendees are expected, including guests, spouses and speakers.
“I would credit that to people wanting to come to New Orleans, curiosity about the city and the tours we have planned,” said Mittelstadt. “We had a lot of interest in those.”
The yearly gathering had been scheduled for New Orleans well before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina last year. APME leaders chose not to change cities after the tragic storm, seeking instead to use the convention as a way to help boost the local economy and give editors nationwide a chance to see firsthand the devastation.
“I think it surprised me in a couple of ways,” Mittelstadt said about the increased attendance. “There has still been some hesitation in coming to New Orleans, but those concerns are largely unwarranted. There have been other conferences there, the city is in great shape and so are the hotels.”
Mittelstadt admitted that even without the hurricane impact in New Orleans, he expected the state of the industry — with cutbacks, job losses and the increased consolidation — to curb interest in a national conference at this time. “There are a lot of changes taking place in newsrooms,” he said. “So we are very happy with the turnout.”
The conference program, meanwhile, is incorporating many New Orleans-related events, including a panel discussion about hurricane coverage that will include New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, as well as Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss and Editor Stan Tiner of the Sun-Herald in Biloxi, Miss., whose papers shared a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the storm.
In addition, APME and the Freedom Forum will be running tours of the devastated city throughout the week for editors and their guests, while other sessions will look at the use of Web sites during hurricane coverage and various aspects of New Orleans culture.
Featured speakers will include Dean Baquet, editor of the Los Angeles Times and a New Orleans native; James Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com; and Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose.