July 18, 2011
Last week, I took a trip to the Northeast to take my daughter to visit Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The trip gave me an excuse to slip down to Torrington, Conn. to the Register Citizen, a newspaper that is doing some pretty creative stuff to bring their community into their newsroom.
The Register Citizen has seen its circulation base erode significantly over the past 20 years and its parent company, the Journal Register Company, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The company is reinventing itself under the leadership of CEO John Paton, who touts perhaps the most aggressive digital strategy in the newspaper industry today. Part of Paton's experimentation is taking place in Torrington, which recently moved into an abandoned factory and created one of the most open newsrooms I've ever seen.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Register Citizen is its openness — only Publisher Matt DeRienzo has an office. The public is welcome — encouraged even — to walk into the building and start a conversation with Register Citizen reporters and editors. The morning news meeting is streamed live and readers can chat with the community engagement editor, suggesting story ideas or meeting notes. The afternoon meeting is open to the public — anyone can sit in the discussion of what's going on Page 1 the next day.
The Register Citizen features a newsroom cafe featuring coffee and snacks that is open to the public. The cafe features free wi-fi, and a bank of computers are open to the public to use. A microfiche reader and cabinets of microfiche documenting every edition of the newspaper are available to the public. Need something from microfiche? No worries, you can print copies for free.
Torrington hosts classes regularly on social media, blogging, WordPress and even genealogy. The classes are free and are taught by newspaper staff or other professionals in the community.
The goal, Paton said, is to make the Torrington newspaper facility as open, welcoming and engaging as the Web itself. Much of the vision for Torrington was documented in a New York Times article in December.
This year, we launched Coffee and a Newspaper as a way to engage the public. We do it on the first Wednesday of every month and simply invite readers in from 7 to 9 a.m. to talk about any issue they want from our online comments to the time the newspaper is delivered. It has been well attended; we've had dozens come by to discuss issues. Still, by comparison to Torrington, we've barely stuck our toes in the water.
I would be interested to know what our readers' thoughts are on what's happening in Torrington. Would you make use of a newsroom cafe in Steamboat or drop in on one of our news meetings? In what others ways can we be more open and transparent?
You can call me at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com