FERN Project Summary: The Perfect Food and Reporting Pairing

The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) produces in-depth and investigative journalism on food, agriculture and environmental health in partnership with local and national mainstream media outlets. The target audiences range from broad to narrow, such as the tech community, farmers, business insiders, moms, food activities and food industry representatives.

FERN project is an event called “FERN Talks & Eats.” It will feature up to three FERN reporters live on stage, sharing and presenting dramatic episodes about food and food issues, working with a stage director to craft a dynamic, engaging and entertaining experience that draws a wide audience.

This will be paired with a high profile chef who will interpret the foods at the center of each story, producing various dishes for participants to eat. FERN plans to present the first event in New York in late 2014. They will charge a minimum of $60 per person and accommodate up to 250 guests, with additional revenue from corporate sponsors. This will lay the groundwork for future similar events in NY and other communities.

FERN has done this once before on a smaller scale. Its success is why they feel they can produce a larger prototype event to eventually become a series of events in other communities, and which will increase audience and revenue.

What knowledge will be gained from this experiment?

FERN predicts several key outcomes. It will allow FERN to launch a corporate sponsor program to support this and future events, strengthen FERN’s major donor program, and create a venue to increase their membership by inviting attendees of the event to donate and join their email list.

Post-event surveys will teach FERN what worked, what didn’t, and provide suggestions for future events. The project will further add to their content library–videos of the writer presentations will be posted to the website. They will analyze audience metrics from the videos which will help determine the potential online audience for FERN Talks & Eats archived content.

The primary goal, however, is to determine the potential profitability of FERN Talks & Eats as an event series taking place in cities across the U.S. If this project is successful, it can be used as the basis for a new business line, directly addressing issues of revenue diversification and sustainability.

At the same time, in creating a live event that is engaging and informative while tying it to chefs preparing delicious food and drink, FERN hopes to extend the concept of audience engagement in ways that other news organizations may be able to replicate.

The reviewers were enthusiastic about the premise – one reviewer said it had to be a slam dunk, if executed properly, as food events are the new art gallery openings. It may not be exactly replicable for a lot of investigative news organizations, but it is experimental, creative and ties in well to the whole interest in healthy eating and food production.

It is fully expected that parts of their presentation template will be a valuable collection of ideas for other news organizations to adapt to their own event planning.