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How to pick the right venue for your journalism event

LAist has hosted two family-friendly "Super-Fun Saturdays" at its Pasadena headquarters. (Louis Felix/LAist)

Here are 7 important things to consider when choosing a venue for community engagement.

This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. 

This piece features tips from Jon Cohn, LAist’s executive director of live programming and events, and Candice Springer, assistant director of WBUR’s CitySpace, based on material they taught in the American Press Institute’s Live Events Sprint for Table Stakes Alumni in 2024.

More from this program:

Jon Cohn knows the power of a good venue. Before he started his career in media, Cohn — now LAist’s executive director of live programming and events — worked as an actor in Washington, D.C., and on a number of touring theatrical productions.

Some of the theaters he performed in were “odd,” he said. Some were intimate. Some were enormous.

“The idea is to find the right place for the right thing,” said Cohn. It’s a mantra he still brings to his events work.

On its face, that might sound easy. But experienced event teams know that venue selection is arguably the most important decision they make when planning live events. Venue directly affects patron experience and total cost. Venue also acts as a powerful extension of your news organization’s brand.

“The one thing to keep at the forefront of your mind is that when people walk into a venue, they associate it with your brand automatically,” said Candice Springer, the assistant director of WBUR’s CitySpace, a multipurpose events program in Boston. “So you want to make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward.”

Identifying potential venues, then vetting them for specific events, can help your event team do just that.

Identify the potential venues in your area

There are good venues in every community, Cohn and Springer said. Depending on where you are, you may just have to look more closely for them. Consider outdoor spaces, historical landmarks, bars and restaurants, colleges, community centers, theaters and concert halls.

“Try to think outside of the box,” said Springer. “What are the spaces that exist in your market that are a little unconventional — that maybe set you apart and establish your brand as very unique and cool and distinctive and different?”

In a previous role, for instance, Springer hosted numerous events on Charles River boat cruises. Cohn, not to be outdone, once held an LAist event on the Queen Mary — a historic ocean liner that is, he said, “purported to be haunted.”

Cohn and Springer suggest brainstorming potential venues well in advance of any event and compiling them in a detailed spreadsheet, with important information such as the manager’s name and contact details, capacity, cost, amenities and other notes from in-person visits. By starting this general “venue database” early, and maintaining it on an ongoing basis, event teams can be efficient and nimble when planning specific, actual events. API has created a venue spreadsheet template that you can use to keep these details organized and at hand.

“Collect as much information as you can about the venues — keep an ongoing list and keep it up to date,” Cohn said. That way, “you’re not scrambling when the need arises.”

Match the right venue to the right event

Once you do have a specific event in mind, evaluate potential venues. Cohn and Springer recommend securing a location at least nine to 12 weeks before the date of the event to allow time for planning and promotion. They also suggest evaluating venues in seven core areas: scale, cost, access, timing/location, vibe, rules and requirements, and setup and staffing.


Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to event venues. A large, underfilled space can feel awkward and inappropriate for smaller or more intimate conversations. Instead of aiming for the largest venue your organization can afford, Cohn and Springer suggest doing some recon work: What types of events does your audience go to already, and in what numbers? When and where are those events? Do they align with your organization’s goals?

Scout public event and venue calendars to get a sense of the turnout you can expect. Remember to leave room for attrition, which Springer said can run as high as 50% for free events.


News organizations tend to make one of two errors when considering venue cost, Cohn said. They’ll either underestimate the resources required and be floored by the total price — or they’ll underestimate their own resourcefulness, and not aim quite as high.

“I think people don’t realize you can achieve a lot with a small budget,” he said. Organizations should, for instance, explore opportunities to partner with venues to offset their expenses.


Venue “access” has historically been a shorthand for “accessibility”: Does a venue meet ADA requirements and is it easily navigable for guests with disabilities? Springer also challenges event teams to put themselves in patrons’ shoes and imagine other barriers to access. Are there gender-neutral bathrooms? Parking? Public transit? Does the target audience work or live near the venue, or will getting there be a hassle for them?

“Meet people where they are,” said Cohn, particularly when going into new communities or working with diverse audiences. When LAist hosted a roundtable on infant mortality, for instance — an issue that disproportionately affects Black, Native American and Hispanic families — organizers selected a venue in South Los Angeles, where those communities are well-represented.

An LAist event at The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside, California. (Louis Felix/LAist)

Timing and location

Venue availability frequently dictates the time and date of live events, but that doesn’t mean event teams should accept any slot their preferred venue gives them. Consider factors such as competing events or holidays, available lead time and proximity to complementary amenities on that date or time of day. WBUR does not schedule events on Jewish holidays, for instance. But both that station and LAist like to locate their events near coffee shops, restaurants and bars, so that guests can make a night out of the event.


“This is perhaps the most challenging element to get consensus on as a team. And it’s definitely the least scientific,” acknowledged Cohn — but the subjective feel of your prospective venue is obviously important. Consider things like whether the venue fosters a sense of belonging and whether the space feels appropriate to the subject of the event. It’s also worth checking how much the venue will help you cultivate a particular experience or “vibe” with things like lights, sound equipment and food and beverages.

Rules and regulations

This is a good time to get your organization’s legal and business teams on board: They should review any relevant permitting and insurance requirements, as well as emergency plans, venue security and any other contractual language that limits what you can do in the space.

Setup and staffing

Last but not least, make sure to ask potential venues what staff and amenities they’ll provide in-house, and what you’ll need to rent or bring in yourself. That can range from tables and chairs to ramps and railings to audiovisual equipment and box office staff.

“Do not forget: Rentals add up so quickly. It is shocking how much your rentals can add up,” Springer said. In some cases, a low-cost venue with few amenities will end up costing more than a more expensive site that throws in bonuses like staff and equipment.

Prioritize patron experience

No matter the venue you select — and which amenities it does or doesn’t have — remember that your event may be the first time some people encounter your organization. Springer suggests thinking through your program from the perspective of a guest to make sure you’ve cultivated the right experience.

“Visualize that experience from the moment they get your invite or the event is posted on the site, to the moment that they arrive and when they leave,” she said. How do you want people to feel at this event? What do you want them to experience? And — perhaps most importantly — how does the venue help accomplish that?

“Give yourself permission to be creative and think outside the box,” added Cohn. “We’re researchers by nature, and we look at what other organizations do. But being able to dazzle and delight in a different way — there’s a lot of value in that, too.”