Beyond Print Toolkit: Events

Events can be a part of the post-print revenue mix for local publishers

By Joseph Lichterman

June 27, 2024

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Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

Live events play into the strategic strengths of local news publishers and can be a key part of their post-print or print transition revenue mix.

Successful local publishers are hyper-focused on serving their communities, and events provide them another opportunity to highlight their local bonafides, connect audience members in a new way, and provide additional opportunities for advertisers and sponsors to reach high-quality local leads. 

Events also provide an opportunity for publishers to redeploy some of their staff to support revenue streams that aren’t tied to print. As event businesses grow, there’s a need for sales, marketing, logistics, and even journalists to make them successful. 

Still, despite the opportunity, events can be a challenging, fickle business. They can be expensive to produce and there’s no guarantee that audiences will actually show up. Many event organizations are still reeling from the shutdowns they had to endure during the COVID-19 pandemic. And since the pandemic, many publishers have created a mix of virtual and in-person gatherings. This Guide largely focuses on in-person events, though many of the same principles can be applied to virtual events. 

Events are not a one-size-fits all revenue solution. Before deciding whether to embark on an events strategy, publishers need to determine what will meet the needs of their audiences, attract sponsors, leverage the strength of their organization, and fit with their journalistic mission. 

Here’s what you need to know to help make the decision about whether they should be part of your Beyond Print strategy.

The essentials

There are eight types of news events, according to The Local News Lab’s Events Guide. These overarching event categories can provide a helpful framework for understanding what’s possible when pursuing an events strategy.

The event categories are ordered from largest and most marketing-focused to the smallest and most journalistic. The eight events categories are:

• Lifestyle Expos: These are large-scale trade show-like events that are typically held in venues like local convention centers. They bring together vendors or businesses that provide value to your audience but also have lucrative opportunities for corporate support. Examples shared by the Local News Lab include bridal expos and home and garden shows. These events are typically driven by the marketing or advertising teams and not the newsroom.  

Cultural Events: From events like storytelling evenings or film festivals to marathons or bike rides, these events bring together community members around shared interests and position your news organization as a convener and cultural arbiter. These events also present multiple revenue opportunities from sponsorships to ticket sales. Often times they will begin as projects of the newsroom, but can become larger marketing events. For example, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa began as a story idea for a Des Moines Register columnist, and it now attracts thousands of cyclists annually from around the world. 

Ideas Festivals: Events like the Texas Tribune Festival bring together large crowds to hear talks and panels from journalists, politicians, and other big thinkers. These can be multi-day, multi venue events. They can attract new audiences by bringing national figures to your community, and there are significant revenue opportunities by offering different levels of tickets and sponsorships. 

Corporate/Industry Events: For local organizations that cover a specific industry or for a general interest publication with a strong business desk, this can be an opportunity to bring together leaders around a shared professional interest. By offering opportunities to hear from leaders in the field as well as networking or other professional benefits, publishers can charge significant amounts to join these high-level communities. 

Galas and Awards: Often structured around a meal, galas give publishers an opportunity to honor local businesses and community leaders. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, holds an annual Top Workplaces awards. Businesses will then buy tickets to the event and purchase advertisements to celebrate the honor. These events will often originate outside of the newsroom. 

Political Events : Compared with multi-day Ideas Festivals, political events are often smaller and focused on speakers or panel discussions around elections or about political issues. For example, The Texas Tribune holds its annual TribFest extravaganza every September, but it holds one-off TribLive events around various policy issues year round. These events can vary in size. Many are free to attend, and they again present valuable sponsorship opportunities. 

Social Events: Local news organizations should think of themselves as institutions that serve people holistically — not just by reporting on serious news. Events can be fun, and publishers can get creative to bring people together for trivia nights, singles mixers, game watch parties, and more. 

Education and Training Workshops: These events can align with the mission of your news organization to educate the public and can also leverage skills already on staff. Digital marketing workshops for local businesses, photography workshops, trainings on how to file FOIA requests, youth journalism programs — the opportunities are endless. They also open revenue streams for registrations or even philanthropic funding. 

Listening and Community Events: Listening and community events are most closely aligned with a publication’s journalistic mission. They are often small and held in spaces close to the community. They provide an opportunity for journalists to learn about the communities they cover and vice versa. They are often topic-focused or focused on the broader concerns of a particular neighborhood or demographic. They are largely free, but could be supported by philanthropy. 

These event categories are not meant to be all-inclusive, and in fact, there can be significant overlap between them. Some will be led by the newsroom and others by marketing or business teams. Publishers shouldn’t feel like any event they create needs to fall directly within one category — as always, you should do what’s best for your audience and organization. 

Key indicators

Events will likely never be the largest sliver of a publisher’s revenue pie, but they can still be a significant revenue drive, and also provide value beyond just bringing in cash. 

Let’s look at The Texas Tribune, one of the leaders in the nonprofit news space. Since it launched in 2009, the Tribune has focused on growing its events business. The Tribune produces about 50 events each year around the state. All are free to attend except its annual Texas Tribune Festival, a large ideas festival that takes over downtown Austin every September. It generates revenue from ticket sales to the festivals and the rest is through sponsorships. 

One of its biggest events in 2022 was the Rural Symposium, which it hosted at a local university, and attracted more than 600 in-person attendees and 14,000 viewers online. The Tribune partnered with the Texas Library Association to host watch parties in rural areas across the state where there is poor Internet connectivity. 

In 2022, The Tribune generated about $2 million in revenue from its events, which was 17% of its total revenue. 

Gannett, meanwhile, takes another approach with its events business, which it calls the USA Today Network Ventures. It produces expos, awards shows, and endurance sports events, including The Detroit Free Press Marathon and the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. 

In 2023, USA Today Network Ventures produced 217 events that attracted more than 667,000 in-person attendees. The company primarily generates revenue from events through sponsorships, race registrations, and ticket sales. (It did not break out events revenue in its 2023 annual report.) 


What works for The Tribune won’t work for every newsroom, so it’s essential to understand your goals and what will be considered a success for your organization. 

Eventbrite, the events registration platform, created a guide to help calculate ROI — return on investment — for an events strategy. 

At the most basic level, the ROI would be calculated by dividing total revenue from the event by the total cost, including staff time and other in-kind resources: 

Total revenue / Total cost of the event = $ return per $1 invested

However, that simple calculation does not account for other benefits from holding events, such subscription lead generation, brand affinity, or community trust, which are all positive outcomes. 

The Eventbrite guide offers suggestions and strategies for how to calculate other elements to get a full picture of the ROI of holding an event and how to determine whether it’s right for your organization. 


When launching an events strategy, it makes sense to start small: don’t immediately run out to hire in-house event staff to produce major events. 

Focus on the goals outlined in your ROI calculation and focus on leveraging existing resources before making significant commitments. You may need to hire a freelance event planner, but any news organization has plenty of expertise to lean on from advertising reps to sell sponsorships, marketing teams to create collateral and promote the event, and journalists to serve as moderators or to help lead the programming. 

Here are some resources to help your organization implement an events strategy: 

  • As part of a 2014 strategy report on events strategy, The American Press Institute created a strategy worksheet to help publishers think through the goals for their events, who they are competing against, and other essentials for launching a successful events business. 
  • As part of its Events Guide, the Local News Lab created templates for critical planning functions, including:
    • A marketing timeline
    • A social media outreach planner 
    • A sample speaker agreement

You can access the sample documents here

Added resources

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