Publishers Are Staging Live Journalism and Shows Are Selling Out

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Walking up to Studio Theater here in Washington, D.C., last week to attend a play, I saw a huge RECODE/DECODE banner overtaking the front glass doors—referring to the very popular podcast hosted by media star Kara Swisher, co-founder of digital publisher Recode.

When I entered, a table of sponsored, elegant water bottles greeted me, with tuxedoed waiters milling about. Instead of heading upstairs to my theater, I followed the trail around the corner to another theater space there where a reception was taking place. Turns out that people were there—at $10 a ticket—to watch a podcast titled A Conversation About AI. And it was sold out.

The agenda included a 5-6 pm networking reception followed by back-to-back podcast tapings featuring Ken Washington, VP for advanced research and chief technology officer of Ford Motor Company, and "superstar AI researcher team" Meredith Whittaker and Kate Crawford—both NYU professors. "There will be drinks, networking with other Recode fans, and the chance to meet Kara herself," their promo, which I later found on EventBrite, read. A "podcast after party" ended the evening.

Did I mention it was sold out? An article on the European site FIPP yesterday headlined, How Live Journalism Is Gaining Traction and Engaging Audiences Around the World, previewed an event tonight hosted by Financial Times at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in central London. It will be the first time that the FT has ever done live journalism—"its theatrical premiere," said Renée Kaplan, head of audience engagement at the FT.

The stars of the show will be FT journalists, columnists and an illustrator who will perform "pieces of original content, reporting and commentary, live music and multimedia, covering a diverse range of topics."

"There is an appetite for this," Kaplan said in the story. News readers and consumers are becoming increasingly saturated with digital content and struggle less with access, than ways to filter what they're seeing, viewing, reading, consuming and surfacing. "I think there's almost a sense of relief, reprieve and gratitude, that there's a non-digital space with which they can be engaging with journalism, but in a way that is almost permission to put their phones down."

At this time, only 37 tickets remain for FT's event tonight—almost all in the last row—at a cost of £35 ($46).

Up to now, publisher events mostly consisted of conferences, seminars, speaker lunches and breakfasts, and maybe certification classes. But this "live journalism" trend could open a totally new revenue avenue. I know from our SIPAwards entries—in investigative reporting, blogging, spot news, podcasts—that there are many riveting storytellers in the SIPA world. And most publishers are now holding some sort of events. Is it time to put your journalists on stage? Could it draw new people to your conferences?

Live journalism is about the power of connection, Kaplan said. "It's memorable in a way that reading a story isn't. One of the interesting and important differences between events and any other form of journalism is the fact that there is a person and a personality and a sense of connection."

Other examples of live journalism include:

Live Magazine in Paris. They have been on stage in four countries and 16 cities in Europe, reaching an audience of 40,000, and partnered with Agence France-Presse, Le Monde, Le Temps, Les Echos and J'aime Lire, and with a children's edition. "People want to have this here-and-now experience," said CEO Florence Martin-Kessler.

Zetland in Denmark. Launched in 2012, the long-form subscription-based site has allowed Zetland journalists to get to know their members face-to-face. "And it's where editor-in-chief Lea Korsgaard and other staffers, according to a NiemanLab article last year, started hearing suggestions from their audiences that they wanted to listen to their regular journalism instead of read it. (Check out this video preview.) Zetland publishes in-depth reporting daily on topics like culture, the climate, education, and economics, with the mission of 'not to make news — it is to make sense.'"

Stitched in Canada. Sonya Fatah, assistant professor at Ryerson University's journalism school in Toronto, created a multi-disciplinary course based on live journalism called "stitched!" It's a kind of live documentary form of journalism, Fatah said. Stitched! A Live Journalism Event premiered March 28, 2019, in Toronto, and will return the next academic year through a partnership with Global Campus Studio.

Pop-up Magazine in the U.S. In Washington, D.C., last fall, Pop-Up Magazine brought its glossy content to life for a night of news, complete with advice columns, lists, in-depth features, even ads. The difference is that it was performed by some of the country's top journalists, storytellers, visual artists and musicians.

I think the Recode/Decode formula—networking, conversation on a trending-for-your-audience topic, and even a "party" after—can and will have its place for more publishers in the future. I'm not sure how I missed that Recode event but I will definitely look for the next one.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…