Community engagement in a Digital First newsroom doesn’t mean sitting at a computer all the time. You also invite the public in to use your computers, drink your coffee and chat.
Journal Register Co. newsrooms are working to open our newsrooms in a variety of ways. Our Newsroom Cafe at the Register Citizen in Torrington, CT, has received the most attention, including being named Innovator of the Year last month by the Associated Press Managing Editors (video below). But other JRC newsrooms are working to invite bloggers and other community members into the buildings and to reach out into the community digitally and in person.
The Register Citizen’s move was prompted by a necessity to move out of its old building into a roomy former factory. Publisher Matt DeRienzo planned the layout of the new building to include the Newsroom Cafe, an area with computers and a microfilm machine for public access (with free printouts), a classroom and a lounge where community art could be displayed.
For some newsrooms, this is a great idea to copy or improve upon (as the Winnipeg Free Press did). Opening an area to the public is more challenging in other communities, where many of our newsrooms operate in old buildings and less-than-ideal locations. But each newsroom is working on direct public outreach in its own way.
This is the perfect illustration of something I say frequently: Community engagement is not a one-size-fits-all venture. Don’t try to replicate what the Register Citizen did. Find the right engagement path for your newsroom and your community.
Yesterday I joined a discussion of plans that will lead eventually to an exciting new community newsroom project (more on that as the plans take shape). Last week, the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., opened its Community Media Room, a former office space now open to the community, with computers for public use, art display space, space for community meetings (at no cost) and livestreaming video events.
Editor Andy Hachadorian summed up the project at last week’s open house:
We’re in a digital first world and that’s our aim, that’s our goal, that’s our focus, but what that really involves is you guys. You’re our partners in this experiment. We’ve spent a lot of years as reporters and editors telling you what you wanted to read. We want to know what you want to read about.
As I made the rounds of JRC newsrooms last summer, I was pleased to see various stages of efforts to bring the public in. The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., and the Record in Troy, N.Y., had rooms they were planning to open to the public. The evening of my visit, the Mercury used its community room to host a happy hour organized by Positively Pottstown, a member of the Mercury’s Town Square, a network of local blog, pictured below. The Oneida Daily Dispatch has invited the community to meetings held in an area of the newsroom.
Each of our newsrooms has developed a blog network, usually called a Community Media Lab. Engaging with bloggers in person as well as digitally is a high priority for each of our newsrooms. I met with bloggers — sometimes in a meeting just for the bloggers and sometimes as participants in a workshop for the staff — at our newsrooms in Delaware County, Pa.; Lansdale, Pa.; New Haven, Conn.; Middletown, Conn.; Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Willoughby, Ohio; Lorain, Ohio; Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich.; and Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
The Oakland Press in Pontiac offers internships to teach skills such as video, blogging and basic news writing to people in the community. Editor Glenn Gilbert explained the extensive engagement efforts in an email:
We primarily hold classes and offer one-on-one tutorials as well. … While we have a separate room for the lab it is not ideal, and have chosen instead to mix them into the newsroom, which is almost always possible because sports terminals are not used much in daytime hours.
We make computers available and also flip cams. …
Sports offers monthly and continuous classes, has recruited a number of community sports bloggers, and uses labbers extensively to cover minor school sports and community recreation.
At the Times Herald in Norristown, Pa., I led a workshop for people interested in blogging. At Torrington, I sat in on such a workshop led by Kaitlyn Yeager. The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant recently held a class on the nuts and bolts of blogging.
The Morning Sun for several years has invited the community to advise it on editorial positions. “Our Editorial Board — which has evolved into our Community Media Lab — continues to meet weekly and the discussion is as much about community and news coverage as it is editorials,” Editor Rick Mills told me in an email.
Where building limitations present problems with physically opening our newsrooms, we are making sure that our digital outreach is aggressive. “We’ve had a string of election candidate debates of 90 minutes for which and during which the community is invited to ask questions and comment during the event itself,” recounted Tony Adamis, editor of the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y.
What are ways your newsrooms are reaching out and inviting the public in? What’s working? What’s not?
Update: Thanks to Buffy Andrews for tweeting about How to get published seminars at the York Daily Record.
Another update: Karen Unland tweeted about how the Edmonton Journal is opening its newsroom to the community.
Another update: Jeff Payne, editor of The Voice Newspapers and Armada Times in New Baltimore, Mich., reports on some outreach efforts by his staff:
We will hold monthly sessions at local coffee shops/diners and libraries where we will invite readers to meet with an editor or reporter to discuss issues of importance to them. This will begin in earnest in November. …
Payne also plans to provide a couple computers for public use and hopes to partner with a local coffee shop.