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Thankless Jobs For Fans: Programming

I read with some interest and not a little schadenfreude about the kerfluffle over programming at Worldcon this year. I'm not going into the details, but suffice it to say quite a number of people are being hoist on their own politically correct petards, and now the poor bastards doing programming have to jump through their asses to redo panels with less than a month before the convention. Welp.

That having been said, I don't envy them their task. Next to running consuite, programming is probably one of the most thankless jobs on con staff, mainly because as George Brett once said when asked who should be voting for the players in the All-Star Game said "I don't know, because I don't know who the game is for." And so it is with programming. I have worked on programming for two very large conventions, and who programming is for is a question that doesn't seem to get asked very often. There is an assumption that panels and other events are there to entertain the membership, but there are also panels that are purely informational (Balticon and Convergence both have science tracks, for example) and panels where the filthy pros talk about their latest work, general trends in the field, or whatever. I don't know about Balticon, never having been on staff or been a volunteer there, but both Anime Detour and Convergence depend heavily on input from the membership to suggest (and staff) panels*. Apparently this wasn't done at Worldcon, because quite a few of the obscure Hugo nominees -which is to say, virtually all of them - felt snubbed by not having enough panels, and there was much anger that people who had suggested panels found that they'd been passed over for those panels in favor of people the head of programming thought would be a better fit for said panels. It was at that point the fewmets hit the fan, much screeching ensued, and the aforementioned overhauling of panels commenced.

That process is just part of the headache, sports fans. You have to figure out -sometimes based on previous years' numbers, sometimes not - which of the limited number of rooms a panel is going into (this is sometimes made easier by reserving certain rooms for particular programming tracks) and when during the weekend the panel is happening, which will affect attendance - needless to say, panels that don't/aren't expected to draw well are going to wind up on Friday and Sunday afternoons before most people show up. I myself have had panels drop in attendance by an order of magnitude when they were moved from Saturday during cosplay to Sunday just before closing ceremonies. You have to coordinate with Guest Relations and the guests themselves to keep from burning out those guests by asking them to do too much in not enough time, and this can be its own can of worms if attending professionals are not designated guests of the convention and just happen to be attending.

So it's a lot of work, and if you do everything right, nobody notices because the panels & other programming go off without a hitch and without any complaints. When stuff goes sideways, as it almost always does, suddenly everything is your fauilt. Like I said, it's a thankless job.


*Usually if you suggest a panel, you're expected to find people to be on it with you. Obviously this is going to work differently at Anime Detour, where the vast majority of panels are for and by fans, than it will at Convergence or Diversicon, where a lot of local authors show up and usually want to sit in on a couple of panels.