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 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?

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Our first day in the Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe

Reporters, editors and members of the public participate in an "open" daily story meeting at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe Dec. 13.

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.”

One visitor excited by our exhibit on the Flood of 1955 came back later in the morning to show off old newspapers she had saved from that time period.

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.

See video on The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe from Journal Register Company on Vimeo.

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.
http://player.vimeo.com/video/17802868

See video on The Register Citizen Open Newsroom – Archives from Journal Register Company on Vimeo.

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Register Citizen to move office, open Newsroom Cafe

TORRINGTON – The Register Citizen announced Wednesday morning that it is moving its offices to a new location in Torrington on Dec. 13 and launching a Newsroom Cafe, Community Media Lab, Community Journalism School and a Local News Library, free and open to the general public.

“When you first walk into our new space at 59 Field St., it will look like a cross between a coffee shop, library and newsroom,” said Publisher Matt DeRienzo. “We are issuing a permanent invitation for the community to be engaged and involved in how we report local news and information, at every step in the process.”

The Newsroom Cafe will offer free public wifi Internet access, comfortable coffee house-style seating, Green Mountain Coffee and local baked goods for sale.

“With no walls, literally, between the Newsroom Cafe and The Register Citizen newsroom where reporters and editors work, the space is designed to invite readers into the process,” DeRienzo said. “We want readers to feel comfortable interacting, in person, with the reporters and editors who are making decisions about how to cover local issues they care about.”

The community will be encouraged to sit in on and participate, if they wish, in the newsroom’s daily story meetings, which will also be livestreamed at RegisterCitizen.Com, offering editors advice on how to cover stories, or pitching new story ideas.

The Register Citizen will be moving after more than 110 years in its offices at 190 Water St., a transition that DeRienzo said reflects a move from focus on print newspaper manufacturing to a “digital first” business model.

“Our digital audience at RegisterCitizen.Com is now significantly larger than our print audience, with online readership quadrupling over the past two years while our print circulation has remained flat,” he said. “That reflects a huge increase in audience overall, and we are engaged with that audience in an unprecedented way thanks to a digital-first, 24/7 news cycle and technological tools such as social media. Now we’ll have a physical space that reflects that engagement with the audience and encourages more of it.”

“This is an example of the physical manifestation of the changes Journal Register Company has been making under our Digital First business model. Bringing audience into the physical space and providing a welcoming area for readers and staff to interact will continue to foster greater engagement,” said John Paton, Chief Executive Officer of Journal Register Company, which owns The Register Citizen as well as other newspapers in Connecticut, including the Litchfield County Times and the New Haven Register. “The inclusion of the crowd – through our Community Media Labs and the community meeting space – provide additional voices to the coverage of our communities. This is what our readership wants and it is what we will deliver.”

The new office is set up as a place where the community can consume news, by grabbing a cup of coffee and muffin and sit in the Newsroom Cafe with a laptop or iPad and access The Register Citizen’s free public wifi.

But it has also been designed as a place where the community can contribute news. In addition to participating in newsroom meetings or informally talking with reporters and editors, the new Register Citizen office will have workstations available and staff on hand to assist readers with submitting press releases, local calendar announcements, neighborhood and family news.

Incorporated into the space will be a “Community Media Lab,” with workstations set up for use by local bloggers and citizen journalists. The Register Citizen has named a Digital Projects Editor, Kaitlyn Yeager, who will be training and working with existing bloggers and community members who wish to start blogging. In addition to using the resources of our newsroom, they will also have the opportunity to have free links to their writing from RegisterCitizen.Com.

“Our goal is to create a network of staff and citizen reporting down to a local neighborhood and niche interest level in Northwest Connecticut,” Yeager said. “If you feel there is a void of information available about your neighborhood, or the sport that your child is interested in, or your hobby, I am here to help you fill it.”

Yeager can be reached at 860-489-3121, ext. 345, at kyeager@registercitizen.com, or at Twitter.com/kmyeager.

The new office will include a “Community Journalism School,” where classes will be offered year-round for free or at a nominal cost to cover materials. Courses and workshops starting in January will include “Blogging 101,” “Introduction to Social Media,” “The Freedom of Information Act” and “Storytelling” with longtime Litchfield County journalist, author and Register Citizen columnist Owen Canfield.

And for the first time, The Register Citizen’s complete archives, including editions of the newspaper going back 120 years, and detailed index card files from the first half of the century chronicling the birth, death and notable accomplishments of local residents, will be open and accessible to the public. A new microfilm machine will allow the public and staff to find an article from 1895, or 1953, convert it to a PDF and email it to themselves or digitize it for web-based reporting and history projects.

The Register Citizen’s new offices at 59 Field St. in Torrington will be located in the former Torrington Company’s “Excelsior” building, in space between the Intergis software company and where the temporary Torrington City Hall was located earlier this year. Improvements to the space included the addition of a handicapped-access ramp at the main entrance to the office. Free parking for the public is abundant.

For more information about the new office, Newsroom Cafe, Community Media Lab, Community Journalism School and Local News Library, visit http://registercitizen.com/newsroomcafe. You can also follow updates on this project, as well as highlights of the work of local citizen journalists, at http://twitter.com/RCNewsroomCafe.

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