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Q: How does IRE choose locations for conferences?
There are many factors that go into choosing locations for IRE and NICAR. A significant factor is the amount of space required. As our membership has grown over the years, so has our requirement for more space for panels, demos, hands-on rooms and reception and awards luncheon spaces. We also require a lot of actual guest rooms for all who are staying overnight for conferences. There are many cities we’d like to be in but simply can’t because of those space requirements.
We try to consider a city’s cost and we also try to give equal time to opposite coasts and the Midwest, with a keen eye on how readily accessible it is for members who need to fly there (i.e., making sure there is an accessible airport with many flight options).
Some cities have expanded their hotel and meeting space options, which give us more to choose from in coming years. For example, Nashville recently opened a new hotel that is big enough to host IRE - but we have to book far in advance to save money, which is why we contract with hotels 3-5 years in advance. Still, IRE works with hotel companies so often that we know where they’re building - and we factor that into our discussions when we choose conference cities.
The cities/locations we have contracted for upcoming conferences are on the IRE website under future conference dates & locations here. We are sometimes asked why we don’t use university space or other public meeting spaces in cities. The answer is that we attempt to do all of our things on one property; meaning, hotel and meeting space. This provides the most cost savings to IRE and allows us to keep registration as low as possible.
And one last note: looking for locations is a two-way street. The hotels have to decide whether they want our business and will bid if we fit their needs. Meeting space, number of sleeping rooms, and amount of food and beverage we need are all factors taken into consideration.
Q: How are panel topics decided for conferences?
It’s not as simple as you might think. It starts with pitches submitted by members. More weight is assigned to pitches that are fleshed out and have good titles and full descriptions that would also host a diverse mix of speakers. And by diverse, we mean many things, including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, reporting platform, audience size, geographical location, and experience level.
If IRE staff sees several pitches on the same topic, especially something that we’re all covering at the time, that will likely get priority. We also look closely at attendance levels to see which panels did well in previous years and which ones did not. Those that did well will likely get on the list of potentials once again.
There is also a list of tried and true IRE/NICAR sessions that are almost always done in some variation. Examples include bulletproofing stories, how to do a confrontational interview, FOIA know-how, etc. Those get on the list early on. We also hold space for project-specific sessions, especially if they’ve garnered recognition that year.
You’ve also noticed we have “tracks” within the conference. There are some like “broadcast” or “management” that were created to simply help attendees follow a schedule of panels geared toward their beat or interest. But we are always looking to add new tracks and some conferences may include tracks that are based on the news of that year, such as an election track.
For members whose panels weren’t selected, IRE staff will try to communicate with everyone via email to let them know.
Q: How are panelists chosen?
If you have a good pitch, try to suggest good panelists who go along with it - that’s a good start for us. If someone suggests a good panel session but no speaker suggestions, IRE staff or the Conference Committee will make suggestions.
IRE is constantly trying to collect as much information as possible throughout the year for a repository of speakers. We maintain an internal Slack channel for speaker ideas throughout the years and we always want new folks at our table.
We take pride in choosing people who have something to offer our members. If you see some of the same speakers each year, it’s because the feedback from members is that they are effective trainers for our conferences. We are always looking to train newer members on how to be effective speakers (see below for more information) but we also value our seasoned speakers who have given their time and efforts to our conferences over the years.
If you want to speak at a conference, email IRE staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep in mind that the staff also looks for speakers who are already registered for the conference. If you haven’t registered yet, it’s important to let our staff know you’re planning on going and want to speak.
Q: How can I help train the next generation of IRE Conference speakers?
A great way to help is by serving as a panel moderator. A good moderator not only ensures that the panel has connected and is well-organized but also coaches their speakers on how to prepare, including creating an easy-to-read slide deck and a helpful tipsheet, as well as how to engage with the audience. A strong moderator is also a strong mentor.
Another way to help is to encourage people you know who have never spoken before to raise their hand to speak. If we can use their expertise, help them out by sharing what you've learned as an IRE speaker and attendee. Even if you aren't speaking or moderating this year, tap into the IRE spirit and share the collected wisdom!
As we all know, serving as a moderator is time-consuming, when done well. If you want to raise your hand to serve as a moderator and you know you'll be joining us in Nashville or Orlando, fill out this short form so we can utilize your skills.
Q: What have the rates been historically for hotel rates and for registration?
If you’d like to see the historical data for IRE and NICAR registration rates, we’ve linked it here.
Q: Why are the rates higher for IRE this year than in previous years?
IRE staff and the board’s Conference Committee work hard to keep costs low. Each year, we revisit the registration rates and consider upcoming conference fees against inflation, the state of our industry and IRE’s budget, among other factors. We’re proud that our world-class training has remained a good value for our members.
That said, this year IRE needs to bring in extra revenue due to record-high inflation, coupled with lower-than-expected revenue in 2022. We made this decision in consultation with staff and with IRE’s Board of Directors and the Conference Committee and factored in many things, including a lower hotel rate and the registration rates of other journalism conferences. We are cognizant that in the current economic climate, some members will be paying their own way to conferences - rather than their employer - so we also opted to keep the “early bird” option at the previous year’s rate and make it available for a longer period of time.
Affordability is a major initiative among our board and staff and we continue to listen to our members and stay motivated to keep rates and fees accessible, many times below those of other professional journalism organizations.
Q: Why are we not doing a virtual component for IRE this year?
We listened to our members, who largely gave feedback that the virtual component at last year’s conference was not a good experience. This doesn’t meet our high standard of training, so we’ve decided to not offer a virtual component for IRE or NICAR conferences.
We instead have significantly bolstered our affordable and accessible virtual training opportunities scheduled throughout the year, including the all-virtual Access Fest conference in the fall of 2023.
We simply don’t have the means to do so. With so many speakers at each conference (up to 500 at IRE), it would be cost-prohibitive for the organization to either pay a speaker honorarium or waive the registration fee for all of them.
We do offer the early bird rate to speakers during the entire registration process, even after the early bird discount has passed. And we can consider waiving the fee for speakers on a case-by-case basis, depending on need and accessibility.
Q: It’s a conference and there’s no coffee for attendees? What gives? (Yes, that’s a question we get every year!)
Coffee costs us well over $100 per gallon (plus tax and service charge), which only serves about 20 people. To keep registration fees as low as possible, we do not include coffee for all attendees. If we were to add coffee, we would need to increase registration costs to cover this expense.
Q: I have a lot of opinions about conferences and I want you to know about them. How do I do that?
We’re glad you asked. First, you can always reach IRE staff to give feedback or propose ideas. The best way to reach them is here. You can also reach the Board of Directors Conference Committee and ask to sit in on their meetings. The committee’s chair is IRE’s Vice President Cindy Galli and you can reach her at email@example.com.
Be on the lookout for emails before the conferences that ask for your ideas. We always make a call out to members and we want your ideas for panels and speakers.
Finally, fill out the questionnaire that you receive at and after the conference. This is our best way of gauging reaction to panels and knowing what resonated (or didn’t) with our members. You’ll get a daily survey emailed to you as well as an overall survey at the end of the conference. We love hearing from you!