“We had no idea what we were doing…but we came up with a successful event.”
That’s KOSU’s Rachel Hubbard describing the risk the station took with Policy and a Pint. But, it was a risk that paid off. This “political conversation meets drinks with friends” event series helped the station engage the community around some pretty tough issues.
The story starts in 2010. Twelve hot-button ballot initiatives were up for vote in Oklahoma. The initiatives were complicated and controversial, which created a challenge for newsroom staff in how they would engage with the community around them.
In the midst of this, Hubbard heard of Policy and a Pint: a Minnesota Public Radio event that brought people together for drinks and discussion. The idea was perfect – with one hitch.
“We’re a staff of eight, so I needed to transition something MPR had done (with a much larger staff) into something that would be a turnkey event for us,” said Hubbard.
The first round of Policy and a Pint
The station team pulled up their sleeves, brainstormed and got to work. Months later, with baited breath, they waited to see how the first event went.
“Honestly, I was going to be excited if 10 people came,” said Hubbard. “But in the end, the restaurant was essentially overrun. And we’ve had 50 to 70 people every event since then.”
KOSU went on to host four more events in 2010, and just recently, rebooted Policy and a Pint as a monthly event.
How to make this work at your station
While Hubbard is modest in describing their efforts, we think the station made some smart decisions as they shaped the event. Here are some ideas to recycle.
Choose a good location.
“I tried to create an event I’d actually like to go to,” said Hubbard. So, she found a restaurant owner in Oklahoma City (a public media listener) who agreed to host for free. They’ve continued to hold the event at pizza restaurants and other local venues, finding that people are more likely to go somewhere they might socialize normally.
Choose a good format.
KOSU’s event usually features two to three panelists. A reporter moderates, taking questions through Twitter, index cards, or a microphone in the audience. Questions are allowed for an hour, but people usually stick around longer to chat. This format gives everyone an opportunity to learn and to let their voices be heard.
Keep it simple.
KOSU didn’t try to record the event or turn it around for broadcast the next day. This made it less complicated for them and people were more willing to open up sans cameras. But, whether it’s through occasional interviews or gathering story ideas, the event does still inform their broadcast in important ways.
Bring in experts who can speak to the facts. “This past month we did one on water in Oklahoma – an extremely controversial issue,” said Hubbard. “We tried to find people who can explain the issues and not have it be a he said-she said event.”
Promote, promote, promote.
KOSU doesn’t skimp on promotion. They promote the event on-air, via social media, e-newsletters and more. Most importantly, they have some fun with it. Listen to this clip from their promotion for the event about water issues:
Experiment (and accept that it could fail).
KOSU is small. But the station staff were willing to give Policy and a Pint a try – even if it didn’t work. In the end, Hubbard is glad they did. “Historically public media have been known as innovators in the public square. We don’t want to lose that.”
-Kira Sparks @kksparks