The Register Citizen Newsroom Café opened earlier this week: an initiative of the Journal Register Co's Torrington, Connecticut-based paper that aims to allow the public into the newsroom and to invite the community "to be part of the process of local journalism at every step."
The paper's new office is based around this "open newsroom" concept and also has a Community Media Lab, a Community Journalism School and a Local News Library, all of which are free and open to the general public, the project's blog said. The first day saw more than 100 members of the community turn up.
The café offers free public wifi, "comfortable coffee house-style seating," and coffee and snacks for sale.
The community is encouraged to sit in on and participate in the newsroom's daily story meetings, which will also be live-streamed at RegisterCitizen.com. Several members of the public joined the first meeting, and more than 120 people watched the live video of the meeting, contributing via a live online chat.
"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," wrote publisher Matt De Rienzo the day after the first meeting.
Community members were also interested by the newspaper's microfilm archives, and an exhibit of photos from a flood in 1955, his blog post said. Many also took advantage of the free Internet access
It is based in Torrington, a city of 36,000 in northwestern Connecticut, The Register Citizen's print circulation has fallen from 21,000 in the late 1980s to 8,000 now, said The New York Times. Its readership is six times as big online as it is in print and it is the openness of the web that has inspired its move to a new, open space, the NYT said.
John Paton, CEO of the Journal Register Company, has been aggressive in transforming the local media company since he bought it earlier this year. He told the New York Times that eventually all other company properties would be redesigned in the same way.
Inviting the public into the newsroom was also the strategy of Czech media group PPF's Nase adresa project. The group set up hyperlocal websites whose reporters worked in newsrooms attached to cafes, meaning that they were completely accessible to the public, and that the cafes became a space for the local community to gather. The revenue brought in by café sales also covered the overhead costs of the news cafes. However, PPF Media was sold and the project was closed.
Becoming accessible and therefore more accountable to the community is a significant step for a news organisation and a fascinating experiment. Will this kind of open newsroom become more widely adopted, or will it prove to be less effective?