It’s been almost two months since The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe opened at 59 Field Street, and we’re settling into the new routine of having a completely “open” newsroom.
The heartbeat of the new culture and atmosphere our new offices have created is not so much the lack of barriers between the public and reporters and editors. It has been the steps we’ve taken to make The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe a hub of community activity.
The Cafe. The coffee shop portion of our newsroom has been used by retirees, students, job seekers working on their resumes, entrepreneurs plotting their next startup and even a women’s knitting circle. And we were pleased to have our first Artist of the Month exhibition there in January, featuring landscape paintings by Torrington resident Jessica Bartlet. A photography exhibit is going up for February, and we now have a long waiting list of local artists looking to participate.
The Library. One of the most popular parts of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe has been our decision to open 134 years of newspaper archives to the public and invest in a modern microfilm machine. We provide free access, including the ability to make electronic and paper copies at no charge, to readers researching family lore or local history. After decades shut off from the public in a dusty back room at our old office, our Local News Library has been used every single day since we’ve been open at 59 Field Street.
Community Media Lab. Still in its infancy, our Community Media Lab provides computer workstations with open source software to local bloggers and citizen journalists. Community Engagement Editor Kaitlyn Yeager has already offered several “Blogging 101″ classes to residents interested in participating, and we’ll soon be publishing a daily roundup of news on RegisterCitizen.Com highlighting and linking to the best reporting by our blogging and independent journalism website partners.
Community Journalism School. In addition to “Blogging 101,” our built-in newsroom classroom has hosted a workshop on the First Amendment with New Haven Register State Editor Helen Bennett Harvey; a multi-week course on the Freedom of Information Act led by investigative journalist Andy Thibault and featuring some amazing guest speakers; and a riveting class by Sunday Register Citizen columnist, author and former Hartford Courant Sports Editor Owen Canfield on the “Art of Storytelling.”
Each class has been offered free of charge, and broadcast live on RegisterCitizen.com. It has been common to see Register Citizen staff sitting side-by-side local residents, public officials and bloggers, learning together. Upcoming classroom events include a workshop on shooting video, a course on using social media to promote your business.
Community Meeting Space. The classroom, which has video conferencing capabilities and seats 15-25 people, and a small conference room, seating 10-12, are available free for use by community groups. And The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe has also been used as a meeting space to announce major community achievements, including the Torrington Downtown Partners’ recent purchase of an additional building in the heart of downtown. This Friday, U.S. Congressman Chris Murphy will use the cafe to launch his U.S. Senate campaign in Litchfield County and announce key local endorsements.
Open Newsroom. All of this community activity happens around a newsroom that is wide open to the public. Our daily story meetings take place at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, out in the open, with the public invited to sit in, listen and participate. They are also broadcast live on RegisterCitizen.Com. And beyond our daily meetings, the “open newsroom” has instilled a culture of transparency in our decision-making process about reporting the news.
Struggling with guidelines for staff last month for the moderation of online story comments, we posted our draft to the web and sought out feedback from readers via story comments and social media. Then we held a public meeting that drew residents and public officials in person and via live video stream and live chat on RegisterCitizen.Com.
A few short months into this, and the idea of going back to “the fortress” newsroom model seems out of the question. Knowing now the power of connecting with people in a physical office the way that the web connects people virtually, why would we ever choose to isolate ourselves from the knowledge and perspective our audience has to offer?