Monday, December 6, 2010

C'mon in! Grab some coffee, write some news

The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., posted this rendering
of its new "open newsroom" project.

Once upon a time, when I worked for a niche weekly, I delivered a camera-ready help-wanted ad to the big local daily. I walked in the front door of the daily's building, inquired at the information desk on where to go, then almost rode the elevator upstairs with the paper's editor and publisher.

I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation (Hey, fellas, got any news I can poach?), but they, alas, stayed behind after we exchanged some pleasantries.

I delivered my ad, took the elevator back to the ground floor, then returned to my own newsroom.

Fast forward a few years and I was working at that daily, and no one  -- employee or outsider -- got anywhere in the building without a company-issued swipe card. Security concerns post-9/11 were the immediate cause of the installation of new electronic door locks everywhere, but I'm sure there was some peace of mind that no one -- foreign or domestic -- with a gripe against the paper might wander in.

That's why it seemed so radical that The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., decided to move its newsroom to new, coffeehouse-like space and invite the public in. It's all part of an effort by Journal Register Co., parent company to 19 daily and 150 weekly newspapers and affiliated websites, to remake itself as an open system in which readers are encouraged to participate -- as tipsters, barometers of coverage, even writers.

"Bringing the audience into the physical space and providing a welcoming area for readers and staff to interact will continue to foster greater engagement," says John Paton, Journal Register CEO, who began to champion openness soon after joining the company earlier this year, just as it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization.

Newspapers talk a good game of audience engagement. We invite readers to attend editors' daily meetings on coverage and story placement, then are surprised when anyone wants to. And look at how the New York Times' TimesCast morphed from a videotaped peek at the morning news meeting to a high-quality broadcast more akin to a five-minute TV-headlines show.

So throwing the doors wide open in Torrington -- "With no walls, literally, between the Newsroom Café and The Register Citizen newsroom where reporters and editors work," says its publisher -- will be an experiment worth watching.

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