This post originally appeared on the Local News Lab.
When you see something working for one news organization, it is tempting to want to replicate that in your own newsroom. But if you duplicate a model wholesale you risk trying something that is not a fit for your organization or your community.
There has been a lot of attention paid to how journalists are using events to diversify their revenue streams and engage their communities. But events are not one-size-fits all, and in fact when we drill down and look at how different newsrooms are implementing event strategies we see that the most successful events are ones that are uniquely positioned to leverage newsroom strengths and meet community needs.
In fact, looking at the field of news events, there is an astounding diversity of models to explore ranging from serious political debates to social meet-ups. Below I have attempted to break down news events into eight categories, with examples of each. This is part of a larger project to surface best practices and create templates for local newsrooms to use in their planning and development of their own event strategy.
For more background see my earlier list of 17 lessons for successful news events and the slides embedded at the bottom of this post.
The Eight Categories of Journalism Events
Corporate/Industry Events – These events convene leaders in industries the newsroom covers and often focus on big panels and interviews paired with elements of a trade show or demo session.
- GigaOm holds a number of these sorts of convenings under their “Structure” and “Roadmap” events. (PaidContent, which GigaOm bought, also held similar events)
- Re/code, building on the success of the All Things D conference, has held major news making events in the tech sector.
- Technical.ly Philly is a great model of a local newsroom pulling together tech leaders around Philly (and the nation) at Philly Tech Week.
Idea Festivals – These events tend to focus on big social or political ideas and issues, bringing scholars, innovators, activists and professionals together to debate and discuss.
- The Atlantic’s Aspen Ideas Festival is one of the longest running examples of this model, but it is just one of roughly 100 events Atlantic Live sponsors.
- The Texas Tribune modeled their successful Texas Tribune Festival after the New Yorker Festival.
Political Events – Like the “Ideas Festivals” above these events seek to tackle timely issues of public concern, but often with more of a political focus. Rather than a multi-day festival model, these events are smaller 1-3 hour panels and discussions.
- NJ Spotlight holds a series of public roundtables on current issues such as water quality, healthcare and state infrastructure.
- The Texas Tribune’s TribLive events are held around the state and feature intimate and focused conversations with policymakers and other political figures.
Social Events – Not all events have to be serious affairs about critical community issues. A number of news organizations are building community and connecting reporting to people’s lives through fun social gatherings like trivia nights, ping-pong, and singles meet-ups.
- WNYC hosts singles nights in their theatre and Technical.ly Philly hosts networking meet-ups and job fairs.
- GeekWire hosts a summer bash and ping-pong tournament and Politico Pro hosts trivia nights.
- Brooklyn Based sponsors a pub crawl and the Carolina Public Press is holding listening sessions all over North Carolina.
Lifestyle Expos – These are big budget events, like trade shows, that bring together businesses from across the region or even the country to serve a need in your audience. Events like bridal expos and home and garden shows dovetail with wedding announcements and real estate which are still popular sections for many news orgs.
- Chattanooga’s Times Free Press holds a series of lifestyle events like bridal expos and kids expo. You can see their full range of events here.
- The New York Times hosts a travel expo called the TravelShow.
Cultural Events – Tapping into the cultural energy and passions of a local community can be a powerful way to bring people together. Events like film festivals, food festivals, and theatre and music performances can draw revenue from both ticket sales and sponsorships.
- Hyperlocal site Morristown Green organizes a yearly film festival.
- Chicago public radio station WBEZ throws chef battles and drive-in zombie movies.
- Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bites hosts the Taste of Sheepshead Bay.
- The New York Times TimesTalks events bring together celebrities from actors to chefs.
Galas and Awards – More formal events, often organized around a dinner or reception, with awards and presentations from the stage, have been a stable part of many non-profits and associations for a longtime.
- The nonprofit MinnPost wanted to avoid the earnest charity event model, and decided to hold a political roast dubbed MinnRoast.
- Smithsonian Magazine holds an annual American Ingenuity Award’s ceremony. (hat tip to Jan Schafer for pointing this out)
Education and Training Workshops – Education events fit very well with the mission and goals of many news organizations and plays to their strengths. These vary from small-scale workshops to huge lectures.
- Brooklyn Based runs a series of classes focused on everything from crafts to cooking.
- Andaiye Taylor of Brick City Live has been running digital marketing classes for local businesses.
Obviously, as with any categorization, there are some events that fit in multiple categories. This outline of models is simply meant to help newsrooms organize their planning and better define the kinds of events that they might pursue. Many newsrooms host a mix of events, depending on the market they are in, the expertise of their staff and the needs of their communities.
I plan to reach out to many of the organizers for events listed above, to pull together sample budgets, event templates, and planning outlines. Our hope is to lower the bar of entry so more newsrooms can develop event strategies for their communities.
Did I miss some great events you are hosting? Want to share what you’ve learned? Leave a note in the comment section or send me a note on Twitter: @jcstearns.
Here are some slides from a presentation based on the information in this post I recently gave to new local news start-ups in New Jersey:
*I’m updating the bullet points above as others share good examples.
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.