Meeting readers outside the newsroom — a novel idea

In blogs, branding, Facebook, Google+, journalism, reporting, social media, technology, Twitter on August 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

I suppose it’s a little insulting that this strikes me and others, including the Nieman Journalism Lab, as innovative.

Going to where the readers are, making yourself available for coffee — groundbreaking to be sure.

But, really, I’m quite taken with this.

Earlier this week, California Watch, an initiative of the nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting, had its reporters spread out around the state — and even beyond — and set up shop in wifi-enabled coffeehouses.

They call it Open Newsroom, and this most recent one was its fourth to date. The idea is that reporters mingle with readers, gathering story ideas while promoting California Watch at the same time.

I  love this quote from Ashley Alvarado, the community engagement manager for California Watch, in the Nieman story. It sums up the whole not-novel novelty of it.

“I always say we’re so old school we’re new school.”

Here’s a little more from Nieman:

This time the Open Newsroom was promoted in advance, and the coffee shops got notice of their soon-to-be-newsroom status (lest reporters be seen as loitering laptop hobos). California Watch reps posted a sign at each location advertising their presence.

Altogether 29 reporters, editors, and interns participated, including staffers from California Watch’s media partners and its parent organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting. Alvarado talked to me from LAMILL Coffee in the L.A. neighborhood of Silverlake, where she had stayed late to hear from a cancer-research advocate who lost her fiancé to the disease. Reporters and readers discussed medical marijuana, hospitals, data journalism, Latinos and social media, and preschool, to name a few topics.  Along the way, Alvarado tracked the conversations happening among her colleagues and the public on Twitter and recapped the day with a Storify post.

The Columbia Journalism Review wrote about the first Open Newsroom in 2010:

The “Open Newsroom” project, as they dubbed it, was “an opportunity for the public to stop by, share a cup of coffee, and maybe give us some story ideas,” says Mark Katches, California Watch’s editorial director. The experiment, he wrote in the project’s announcement, is “part of a goal to connect with readers and get out of the office. We’re hoping it will be a regular part of what we do.”

In fact, “it’s always something that I’ve wanted to try,” Katches says of the get-out-into-the-community approach to traditional muckraking. “It may be a little gimmicky,” he says of the project, “but the principle is a really strong and sound one.”

To take this a step further, reporters could also help readers set up Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc., accounts so that they can follow the reporter through social networking.

I just started on Monday as the Louisville Courier-Journal’s new Oldham County/Northeast Jefferson County reporter. As a member of the paper’s neighborhoods staff, hyperlocal is kind of my thing.

This seems like a great way to get to know my new community — sort of like having office hours. Maybe I can carve out a couple of hours to sit at a coffee shop in my area and make myself available to readers.

And if no one shows up, I can just spend the time working on stories.

Hopefully, I’ll report back soon on how this goes.

  1. I hope people visit your office hours more than students tend to visit mine! 🙂

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