Hard to believe, but it’s been one year since The Register Citizen launched a “Newsroom Cafe” and invited its audience to be involved at every step in the process of local journalism.
Boiling it down, we’ve learned that:
Managing Editor Emily M. Olson leads a workshop for local organizations and church groups on how to get information published by The Register Citizen.
- Transparency builds trust.
- Openness improves your journalism, leading to new and more diverse sources and improving accuracy and context.
- Partnerships make you stronger.
As Andy Carvin said recently, it’s not about “leveraging your audience.” It’s about listening and knowing how the audience is telling its own story, and in some ways acting as a facilitator as the community organizes itself around common interests or goals.
If you feel that you must own and control every piece of content and platform for delivery, you will wither and die in isolation from the networked world.
In terms of tactical lessons learned over the past year, we’ve found that:
- There will never be a good time to commit time to audience engagement, becoming more transparent, trying new things and training staff, especially in a newsroom as small as ours. You have to “just do it.”
- Effective community engagement won’t happen on your terms, it will happen on the audience’s terms. Their lives don’t revolve around your internal process or desire to get a story done. But the power of the crowd can be amazing when you’ve tapped into something that citizens care deeply about and are either already organizing around or have been waiting for a platform to organize around. Readers (for the most part) aren’t going to tune in to the live stream of your daily story meeting because they care about what you talk about every day. They’re going to tune in because they know you’ll be discussing a particular issue that affects their neighborhood, workplace or family. Or the ideal – they’ll tune in because they feel welcomed to bring up that issue to you because you HAVEN’T been discussing it and they think you should.
- The logistics of community engagement deserve a dedicated staff position (or positions), but it’s a principle that must be incorporated into everything we do and taken up by everyone in the newsroom.
- “Just do it” should be the mantra given the urgent need to transform our business model and how quickly things around us change. But we need to spend more time along the way communicating internally and making sure that every employee understands and buys in to the underlying principles of openness and engagement. You can be undermined pretty quickly by staff who are just going through the motions.
Significant articles that have been written about the Newsroom Cafe experiment and/or its role in the JRC turnaround over the past year:
GigaOm, “For Newspapers, the Future is Now and Digital Must Be First,” December 2, 2010
New York Times, “Walk in, Grab a Muffin, and Watch a Newspaper Reinvent Itself,” December 15, 2010
Poynter, “Register Citizen Takes Analog Approach to Reader Engagement: Open Doors,” December 16, 2010
Suburban Newspapers of America, “Opening Up Your Newsroom,” March 7, 2011
Editor & Publisher, “10 Newspapers That Do It Right,” March 15, 2011
Nieman Lab, “Journal Register’s Open Advisory Meeting: Bell, Jarvis and Rosen Put Those New Media Maxims to the Test,” March 25, 2011
Poynter, “At Washington Post and Register Citizen, ‘report-an-error’ forms make it easier to identify, respond to mistakes,” April 4, 2011
NewspaperTurnaround.Com blog, “Why Our Small Town Daily is Adding a Full-Time Curator,” April 20, 2011
JoyMayer.Com, “Inside the Engagement Experiments at The Register Citizen,” May 4, 2011
Columbia Journalism Review, “John Paton’s Big Bet,” July/August 2011
EditorsWeblog.Org, “JRC’s Jim Brady: Uniting Digital First With a Face-to-Face Approach,” September 5, 2011
Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe blog, “What the Newsroom Cafe Has Taught Us About Improving Local Journalism,” September 13, 2011
The Associated Press, Open Connecticut Newsroom Wins APME Innovation Award,” September 15, 2011
American Journalism Review, “Wooing Them With Coffee,” October/November 2011
Connecticut Newsroom blog, “Corrections, Fact Checking and Accountability: Our New Approach,” October 26, 2011
Annenberg Innovation Lab paper by Melanie Sill, “The Case for Open Journalism Now,” December 7, 2011
John Paton’s “Digital First” blog, “New Media’s New Role as Both Medium and Messenger in a World of Partnerships,” December 13, 2011