Insight: Events are journalism
Events aren’t new; they rose to popularity within the journalism industry when leaders realized the revenue potential of sponsorships. But events can also be journalism.
Good journalists organize information for the purpose of understanding. Events make community information collaborative and experiential.
Raleigh Convergence experimented with several event types, before and during the pandemic. In 2020, I was preparing for a heavier event focus, even calling 2020 “the year of events” in January. It was a challenge of organizing events on a constant pivot, requiring more communication with attendees, marketing and experimentation.
What I learned about organizing events:
- Partner with a venue that your targeted audience enjoys, where a diverse group of people will be comfortable and whose leadership gets your event mission. Getting venues for low cost or free was crucial to stay in the black for an event.
- Bar minimums can be especially tricky, which resulted in the one event that I paid out more than Raleigh Convergence brought in with ticket proceeds.
- People will pay for virtual events. Many virtual events for Raleigh Convergence were free, but storytelling virtual events were paid. I worked to make sure those virtual events felt like in-person events, with introductory playlists, post-event conversations to reflect that felt like an afterparty.
- In 2020, I included a free ticket option available at purchase for folks who self-identified as financially affected by COVID. Still, the majority of people opted to pay, even with public visibility of the free option.
- Once I started hosting separate in-person and virtual events for each theme, I increased the in-person price, because it’s more expensive to produce in person. Virtual events stayed at $10, in-person at $15.
Charging a little gets people to show up more than free events, which people typically over-RSVP for.
- Follow the attendance numbers. The first season of virtual events grew from about 35 to 65 people. As that number dropped lower at the beginning of the second season, I knew it was time to try in-person events again.
- The size of the venue matters. When I didn’t see the numbers of in-person attendees rebound to pre-pandemic levels, I moved the storytelling event series to a smaller venue with the potential of selling out. Events need to feel full enough for good energy and for the perception that it’s a good event.
- Promote more than you think you need. Each event had a minimum of three mentions on Instagram, a Facebook event, and was promoted in the newsletter more than twice. I often used targeted Facebook ads to reach people on Instagram for storytelling events, putting about $30 in from the budget. In pre-COVID times, I also made fliers and pasted them up in high-visibility coffee shops.
Don’t miss an opportunity to keep in touch: All events required some type of registration with an opt-in for Raleigh Convergence’s newsletter. Using the Eventbrite communication tool, I sent out a survey and a last ask to subscribe the day after the event. Good journalists organize information for the purpose of understanding.
Raleigh Convergence experimented with several event types.
The business event
Women Making Raleigh, a women-focused business event, was like a business story come to life. The event included:
- No-small-talk networking prompts to ask other attendees
- A short Q&A with a pottery maker
- Shopping at a woman-owned local business.
It concisely and effectively shared information about businesses, people and connected other locals.
The scavenger hunt
Part of the newcomer series, each location had a socially-distanced scavenger hunt to encourage newcomers to explore uniquely local places.
- In Southeast Raleigh, for example, a community ambassador created video clues to parks, landmarks of Black history and community gathering spaces. Other community ambassadors used photos and text clues.
- Plastic-wrapped prizes, as redemption instructions, were dropped throughout the daylong scavenger hunt.
- Prizes were gift certificates to locally-owned businesses, mostly restaurants.
- We encouraged people to share their experiences on Instagram with a hashtag and in the newcomer Facebook group. It was one of the more successful engagements in the Facebook groups, which otherwise had limited success.
- After the events, the clues were repurposed as content for self-guided tours.
The biggest events effort was a themed live storytelling series, Converging Stories, which ran for two seasons. I brought my storytelling coaching skills to the table and helped others authentically share their true, first-person stories.
This is important to how newsrooms can and should serve communities now for several reasons:
- Fostering community over division: “It was intimate,” one survey respondent said. “The diversity of storytellers helped me remember how many unique neighbors I have!”
- First-person storytelling shares power with the storyteller. Coaching helps folks learn to tell their own stories, versus a news story where more control is in the hands of the reporter.
- Creating a forum: Newsrooms have struggled with how to create meaningful engagement, while storytelling creates conversations. Another survey respondent: “I was enthralled by how personal and genuine the stories were. Each storyteller was excellent and are true artists. Even more so, it was an event I could enjoy even after it was over as we discussed them afterward as friends and shared more stories!”
- Listening to feedback through surveys informed constant iteration and better received experiences: Sightlines, lighting, locations, number of storytellers for a weekday event were some iterative details.
I learned that connecting neighbors with information and each other can be journalism as the community defines it.