This page is a work in progress. How would you answer these questions? Let us know your thoughts, and suggest other questions to be included on this page. Email Community Engagement Editor Kaitlyn Yeager at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Publisher Matt DeRienzo at email@example.com.
1. What, exactly, is a “Newsroom Cafe?”
Simply put, we’ve integrated a coffee shop into the newsroom where reporters and editors work. We are inviting the community to be involved in every step of the process of local journalism. To encourage that interaction, we built a newsroom that would be inviting and comfortable for the community, and give them multiple reasons to be there. That might start with coffee, muffins, pastries, comfortable seating and free public wifi Internet access. But then there is access to the reporter who covers your community, or the editor, to ask questions or express concerns about coverage or share story ideas. There’s an open invitation for the public to sit in on and/or participate in the newsroom’s daily story meetings. And the office is built for a continuum of involvement by the public. There is a classroom offering training courses for citizen journalists, and work stations and staff assistance for bloggers.
2. What is a Community Media Lab?
Journal Register Company launched the “Community Media Lab” concept in the spring of 2010. We are partnering with existing blogs and citizen journalism sites and helping members of our audience to launch new ones to create a hyperlocal network that covers our community in an unprecedented way. We have a full-time editor, Kaitlyn Yeager, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-489-3121, ext. 345) charged with recruiting, training and working with citizen journalists. Citizen journalists will also have free access to classes in journalism, writing and technology offered in a classroom built right into the newsroom. Blogging partners are featured on RegisterCitizen.Com and gain referral traffic from our audience base.
3. Has this been done before?
Yes and no. The concept of a newsroom cafe has been discussed for a while in the industry, has been pioneered by a few online-only news sites in the United States, and has been done in Europe. We believe this is the first time it’s been done in the U.S. by a “traditional” newspaper with a print edition. And it is perhaps the first time that the newsroom cafe concept has been tied with the other elements of our project – opening 136 years of archives for free access to the public; offering work stations, training and assistance to local bloggers and citizen journalists; offering free community meeting space and video conferencing; and incorporating a classroom and community journalism school into the newsroom.
4. Why is the idea such a big deal to people who study the newspaper industry and online journalism?
Well, here’s why it’s a big deal for us: The Register Citizen was in its old building for 105 years. For about 103 of those years, the business model was basically the same. We gathered local news and information, typically from a limited number of “official” sources, and presented that news once a day, on a piece of paper. Our business model today, along with the rest of our parent, Journal Register Company, is “digital first, print last.” The old way was a one-way relationship with our audience. Readers knew we were working on a story only after it was published, and had limited opportunity to react to it – maybe we’d print a letter to the editor, maybe a few days later - and no opportunity to participate. That began to change when we started reporting news “digital first,” and our readers started reacting, immediately, via online story comments. They told us where we were wrong. They pointed us in other directions. They shared information that went beyond the scope of the sources we’d identified. And there was our “light bulb over the head” moment. The audience, collectively, knows a lot more than we do. And so today our audience is invited into the process of local journalism at every step. The web and social media allow us to connect to our audience in unprecedented ways. The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe is a big deal to people who study the newspaper industry and online journalism, we think, because it is a physical manifestation of respecting the audience as a full partner in what we do. It represents a huge show of respect and desire to connect with the community. And its openness is like the openness of the web itself.
5. Won’t reporters and editors be distracted by constant or random interruptions from members of the public with a particular ax to grind?
So far, we have not experienced this. Usually, if someone is taking the time to come in and talk to a reporter, they are worth listening to, and our reporters have gotten some great stories this way.
6. Is this about creating an alternative source of revenue (coffee and pastry sales) as newspapers struggle with print advertising declines?
No. The coffee and pastry sales are a minor part of the transition to an open newsroom, and do not provide a significant revenue stream. The main objectives of the transition are transparency and connection with readers.
7. Does the notion of “citizen journalism” threaten or destroy the traditional investigative and ethical principles of the professional journalist?
Not in our experience. Citizen journalism does not replace traditional journalism, it supplements it. Reporters still investigate stories, talk to official sources, and take photos and video, but reports, concerns and comments from the public add to the stories in ways no “traditional” reporting can.
Follow this project on Twitter @RCNewsroomCafe.