Key Questions to Ask When Planning Your Next News Event

    by Josh Stearns
    August 29, 2014

    This post originally appeared on the Local News Lab.

    The American Press Institute just published a terrific report with lessons from nearly 20 news organizations who are building their event strategy. If your newsroom is interested in face-to-face community engagement and exploring events as a new revenue stream, the report is a must read.

    "Sometimes holding an event that seems a bit outside your traditional identity can be a great way to connect with new audiences, but sometimes it can alienate longterm parts of your community."

    The report is organized around six key lessons:

    1. Use assets you already have
    2. Leverage existing audiences and grow new ones.
    3. Identify and hold off competition.
    4. Take creative approaches.
    5. Weigh the value of different pricing strategies.
    6. Go all-in with promotions.

    But, if the report could be summed up in one line, it might be: “Plan early and plan often.” To that end, the American Press Institute also created a two-page worksheet designed to guide newsrooms through a set of key strategic planning decisions and considerations. It is a useful resource, and you can download a copy of it here.

    Screenshot 2014-07-16 11.12.26A few weeks before API released its report I gave a presentation to New Jersey news entrepreneurs about event strategies for their local newsrooms. I also created a worksheet for that event, but rather than focusing on overall planning, this simply focused on brainstorming. One of the most exciting aspects of these new journalism events which are becoming so popular is the diversity in types of events that are possible. I wanted to help guide people through a brainstorming exercise that would help think big, but root those ideas in a few key considerations.

    You can download the brainstorming worksheet here, but here are the questions I asked the group to consider with a few notes about why.


    Question #1

    What is the “topic love” of your community? What are people passionate about? What are the big issues or questions facing your community? What are the loosely knit groups waiting to be organized?

    • Why: Sometimes event opportunities are staring us right in the face if we know the right questions to ask. Perhaps in your community there are really active parenting list-serves and Facebook pages but no great family events for people to connect in person. Maybe there is a great local coffee scene, but no event that connects the community and adds value. Maybe back to school is approaching but there is little or no good info on local education issues for the coming year. Looking at what your community is passionate about, and what groups are beginning to self-organize can give you lots of ideas about how to tap into already existing momentum and add real value for your community.

    Question #2

    What are the big events in your community already? When do they occur and who do they attract? What are the gaps?

    • Why: You don’t want your competition to dissuade you from a great idea, but you should know what else is already happening in your community. Knowing what already exists can help you identify gaps in the market and help you choose a style of event that feels fresh and unique. You also want to avoid calendar cross-over and conflicts whenever possible.

    Question #3

    What are a few core/anchor business interests in your community (medical, education, restaurants)? What current news issues intersect with these businesses?

    • Why: A key part of many events is selling sponsorships and exhibit tables. A look at local industries can help you assess sponsorship capacity and interest and help you plan your event. Local businesses are not just sponsorship opportunities, they are also often big employers and so their staff are potential attendees as well.

    Question #4

    What kind of event fits your brand, your reporting, your readers?

    • Why: An event is an opportunity to extend your brand to new people and expand your reach. Sometimes holding an event that seems a bit outside your traditional identity can be a great way to connect with new audiences, but sometimes it can alienate longterm parts of your community. There is no right or wrong way to approach this question of style and format, but the key is to consider it along the way and make your choices meaningful and strategic. Make your event’s format work for you.

    See also the Local News Lab’s earlier coverage of news events:

    The Eight Categories of Journalism Events

    17 Lessons For Running Successful News Events

    Josh Stearns is the director for journalism and sustainability for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He was previously journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press. He is a co-author of “Saving the News: Toward a national journalism strategy,” “Outsourcing the News: How covert consolidation is destroying newsrooms and circumventing media ownership rules,” and “On the Chopping Block: State budget battles and the future of public media.” Find him on Twitter @jcstearns.

    The Local News Lab is dedicated to creative experiments in journalism sustainability. Together with our partners we are testing new ideas for building a local news ecosystem that strengthens our communities. The Lab is a project of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supported by the Knight Foundation. Our partners are Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media and its New Jersey News Commons initiative and CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and Center for Community and Ethnic Media.

    Tagged: american press institute api business local news lab news events

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