Case Study

How The Texas Tribune reaches rural Texans through public events

By Terry Quinn

January 18, 2024

Reporting on state policy is essential to The Texas Tribune’s work as a nonprofit news organization. But reporting from the Capitol is only part of that — gathering perspectives and stories from Texans where they live across the state is a critical piece of our mission to make sure we’re connecting with audiences, establishing trust, and showing how decisions made in the Capitol are impacting local communities. 

One of the ways we aim to connect with rural communities is through our Future of Rural Texas symposium. The Tribune hosted the first symposium in 2018, and it was so successful that we now hold it every two years, most recently in 2022. The gatherings have focused on broadband issues, economic development, teacher shortages, healthcare access, and more. The event brings together community leaders, elected officials and everyday Texans. In addition, it has been a very popular funding opportunity, bringing in significant support from foundations and bringing in several new sponsors from businesses and organizations who want to connect with rural residents. 

We learned that it’s so important to have partners to help promote the events, whether it’s local media, trade associations, or chambers of commerce. When they’re promoting an event to their audiences, in addition to our own marketing and brand promotion, it leads to a much more robust attendance and more diverse attendees. 

But in a state as big as Texas, not everyone who cares about rural issues could travel to attend the event. The Tribune made sure to livestream it so people all over the state could watch. Understanding the real challenges of broadband access in rural Texas, we also reached out to local libraries because those are often the only places in communities that actually have broadband capability and access.  

When we started, we knew our small staff couldn’t reach out to every library in Texas individually, so we contacted the leadership of the Texas Library Association. They were able to extend an invitation to participate to all of their members. Most of them were already familiar with the Tribune, and the Symposium aligned with their mission of hosting public offerings and conversations. 

We also reached out to community foundations and other civic hubs. In one community, an art museum hosted watch parties because they see their role as being a community convener. 

We wanted to help our partners host meaningful events, so we created toolkits that walk through how to host a watch party with flexibility and options to suit the needs of each community — for example, you may want to do it all in one day, or you may want to do it over a  series of days or weeks.

The Tribune also provided community conversation starters and ideas for how they could arrange their own panels with local leaders around topics covered in the Symposium. 

We held the most recent Future of Rural Texas Symposium in 2022, and the toolkit included: 

  • A customizable invitation
  • Sample discussion questions
  • Tips for before and after the event

The toolkits also present a revenue opportunity — we were able to sell a sponsorship to support the product.  

In total, more than 600 people attended the symposium in person in 2022, and nearly 14,000 interacted with the symposium online, through virtual views or watch parties. 

The one thing that we have been clear on in the toolkits is that the locally produced events are  not Texas Tribune events. We’ve been very specific that while they are using Texas Tribune content as a catalyst, it’s their event. It’s nuanced, but we make it clear because we don’t want audience confusion. 

And we hope the conversations will continue long after the events. Tribune event recordings are posted on our website so folks can watch the event when its works for their schedule. We’ve had some big breaking news moments at these events, and we’ve also had really deep, thoughtful conversations. One thing I hear consistently is how people may participate because they are passionate about one issue, and then they realize that there’s a throughline of all these issues and how they interconnect. That’s important as we’re trying to help people understand holistically what’s happening around the state and develop more understanding of the issues and opportunities facing Texans. 

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