Events promote community engagement for news organizations of all sizes

Lydia Birt, Lydia Nusbaum and Brooke Semke

Newsrooms and communities of all sizes are experimenting with new ways to engage with citizens. One option is hosting events. A team of senior journalism students at the Missouri School of Journalism worked with KBIA-FM, the local NPR-member station in Columbia, Missouri, to learn if:

  1. Events could be conducted using a small staff, without the need for a team solely dedicated to event planning.
  2. Should newsrooms be spending their time and money on events? Is the investment worth it?

KBIA had two main goals to determine if our events were a success:

  1. Did we walk away from the event with new sources and connections?
  2. Did we show the community that KBIA cares?

The two events we held this semester were completely different from one another. This allowed us to determine what style of event is easier to host with a small staff and what type of event was best at allowing us to make new connections and show we care about the community. We shot 360-degree videos at both events, which are included below. Click and drag to explore both venues.

Event No. 1: The expo

Our first event was held on a Saturday morning downtown in a rural community. We brought together more than eight vendors to set up booths and inform community members on a variety of health-related resources available for them in their community. We provided pumpkin painting, smoothie bikes, door prizes, food and other incentives to get people to show up. The event ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., allowing people to come and go as they pleased.

Event No. 2: The panel approach

Our second event was held on a Wednesday evening in a highly populated community. We traded advertisements for food and a venue with a local restaurant. Our team focused on a single topic: homelessness. Instead of an unstructured come-and-go event we had a panel of two experts and a personal story from someone who was once homeless. They each had 15 minutes to present, followed by a Q&A. Afterwards, everyone mingled.

What we learned

  • Events work as a great tool to connect with the community.
  • Events are worth the time and effort of hosting them.
  • The KBIA reporter had more than 20 new potential sources for stories following the two events.
  • At both events, people were impressed with KBIA for getting out in the community and providing resources to help local residents.
  • A news organization doesn’t require a dedicated event planning team. It’s possible to host events no matter the size of the news organization.

For a complete list of simple steps to plan and host a newsroom event, contact us at


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