With Top Coast Festival, MPR News mounts its own big-idea conference

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Minnesota Public Radio News will look for solutions to the world’s pressing problems at its first Top Coast Festival, a three-day conference that will convene more than a dozen academics and media personalities.

The event will be held May 30-June 1 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and feature guests including Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, New York Times Magazine political correspondent Mark Leibovich and human rights worker Molly Melching. Participants will discuss their areas of expertise with MPR’s on-air personalities, including On Being host Krista Tippett and The Daily Circuit co-host Tom Weber.

Topics of discussion will include politics, health care, technology, food, philanthropy and pop culture. The network is still working out details about additional presenters and topics to be covered.

The concept for the Top Coast Festival shares similarities with other events series focused on big ideas, including the Aspen Ideas Festival and the TED Talks that NPR incorporates into its TED Radio Hour. MPR had been looking to stage a conference for several years “to bring some of our audience together and talk about some of the challenges that are facing our communities and our country,” said Steve Nelson, MPR News program director.

“Events can do something that just listening on the radio can’t,” Nelson said. “Listing on the radio or listening to a podcast is such a solitary experience. When you bring together the people who are interested in your content, you get a different feeling. It’s not just spewing out information; it’s bringing together a community.”

MPR will encourage Top Coast’s attendees to interact via social media in the manner of MPR programs Wits and The Daily Circuit, using Facebook and Twitter to facilitate conversation.

The network hopes to break even on the conference with revenue from sponsorships and ticket sales. It is partnering with the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education to stage the event, with the Carlson Family Foundation acting as sponsor.

MPR members can now buy tickets to the event for $250; remaining seats will open to the general public Feb. 27. MPR will repackage the conversations for local broadcast and digital distribution but has yet to decide whether to stream the event live.

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