Making the newsroom a center of community

The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe hosted an opening reception for our first Artist of the Month, Jessica Bartlet, in January.

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.

Andy Thibault, left, and Jan Smolinski lead a class on the Freedom of Information Act at The Register Citizen's new Community Journalism School at 59 Field Street in Torrington.

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 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?


About mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and corporate editorial director and has been recognized nationally for leading newsroom innovation. He teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University, writes a monthly column for Editor & Publisher magazine, and serves as interim executive director of LION Publishers, a national network of local independent online news site publishers. Previously, he served as group editor of Digital First Media's publications in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine, and Northeast regional editor for Digital First Media. He also served as publisher of The Register Citizen, Middletown Press and a group of weeklies in Northwest Connecticut, and before that was corporate director of news for small dailies and non-daily publications for the former Journal Register Company. In early 2011, The Register Citizen was named one of Editor & Publisher magazine's "10 Newspapers That Do It Right," and DeRienzo was named to its annual "25 Under 35" list of leaders in the newspaper industry. In the fall of 2011, The Register Citizen was awarded the Associated Press Managing Editors Innovator of the Year Award in recognition of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, an "open newsroom" launched in Torrington, Connecticut, in December 2010. He led a team of more than 100 journalists in covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012 and 2013, and has been honored for his editorial writing and leadership of public service and investigative reporting. In 2014, his efforts at the New Haven Register were recognized with the APME's and ASNE's Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity. DeRienzo is a former longtime board member of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut, and served as co-chairman of the United Way's annual fundraising campaign in 2009 and again in 2011. In 2011, he received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Making the newsroom a center of community

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Making the newsroom a center of community | The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project --

  2. Pingback: Is ‘the editorial board meeting’ defunct in a truly open newsroom? | NewspaperTurnaround.Com

  3. Pingback: Newsroom cafe | BioYa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s