They used free public wifi to surf the web on laptops and iPads. They shared stories about the Flood of 1955 while looking at an exhibit of photos from our archives. They looked up birth announcements and police blotter items from 1923 and 1974 on our microfilm machine. They updated their blogs in our Community Media Lab. They talked to reporters about stories that aren’t being reported. They told the publisher about missed deliveries and typos. They sat in on our daily story meeting.
And they drank 75 cups of coffee and ate 88 muffins, brownies, pastries and pieces of coffee cake.
The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe opened yesterday, and more than 100 people showed up for the first day, about as many people who visited the paper’s old newsroom in the previous year combined.
The Register Citizen moved its 105-year-old office on Water Street in Torrington to new space at 59 Field Street built around an “open newsroom” concept that invites the community to be part of the process of local journalism at every step of the process.
“True community engagement is the holy grail, but you can’t expect the audience to walk into or call your newsroom out of the blue and engage with reporters and editors,” said Publisher Matt DeRienzo. “So we wanted to build a space that was inviting and comfortable, that gave the community other reasons to be there, on their terms, and that provided a continuum of options for influencing and/or contributing to our local news coverage.”
A big draw on the first day were 134 years of newspaper archives on microfilm, cleaned up, organized and put out for free public access.
Even bigger was an exhibit of photos from the Flood of 1955. All day long, visitors shared memories with each other of how old they were when the flood hit, and what their family had to do to survive. Meanwhile, on RegisterCitizen.Com, an interactive version of the exhibit allowed readers to click on a photo and have a Google map pop up to show where it was taken, and to scroll over intersections in Torrington and Winsted and see photos of what that neighborhood looked like in the days following the flood.
Other visitors yesterday pointed out where “their machine” was located when the space now occupied by the Newsroom Cafe was once a factory that made sewing machine needles. At one point, literally half the town worked at the old Torrington Company complex, a needle and ball bearing manufacturer whose business moved overseas more than 10 years ago.
Throughout the day, residents also took advantage of the Newsroom Cafe’s free public wifi, which is a scarcity in Torrington.
Bloggers who have partnered with The Register Citizen used the cafe’s “Community Media Lab” workstations to post updates, and asked about signing up for the free journalism and technology courses that will soon be offered in a Community Journalism School classroom built right into the newsroom.
Officials from several community groups inquired about The Register Citizen’s offer of the classroom – complete with video conferencing capabilities – as free community meeting space. Visiting state legislators talked about using the nearby conference room to hold public hours to meet with their constituents.
But just how much things had changed from Friday to Monday began to sink in when reporters and editors gathered for their daily news meeting at 4 p.m.
These meetings typically involve 8 to 10 reporters and editors, talking behind closed doors about news coverage priorities and problems.
For the first time yesterday, the daily story meeting was held at the “open newsroom” conference table at the edge of the Newsroom Cafe. Reporters and editors were joined by members of the public, including a World War II veteran, a public safety commissioner, a Democratic City Committee member, one of our Community Media Lab bloggers and one of the instructors in our soon-to-open Community Journalism School.
At the same time, more than 120 people were watching live video of the meeting on RegisterCitizen.Com, and contributing questions and input via a live online chat about it. Story tips and questions from the live chat and in-person public input added stories to our coverage list yesterday and influenced the direction of other stories.