About a year ago I wanted to start a side blog called "365-journalism business ideas." Alas, I haven't had the time to actually come up with or blog 365 journalism based business ideas. But some are still floating around my head. Here's one that you should feel free to take and make a million dollars with. Just remember to hire me when you do!
At a Public-Press meeting this last week I discussed it out loud for the first time only to meet another journalist who has had the same idea brewing in his head. I bet others out there have considered this as well. I call it the "Newsroom Cafe."
Update from comments:
- Jason Krustefek: Media Companies should open coffee shops.
- Steve Outing: Why news companies should go into the Internet cafe business
- Jackie Hai: A community driven news model (hat tip Daniel)
- Matt Thompson: Neo in the Newsroom
Newsrooms should be public space.
In the past I've complained that the SF Chronicle treats the newsroom like a fortress (see "Culture Change" section in this post). As a test one time I walked up to the Chronicle to see if I could drop by and meet a reporter. I was greeted by security before I even got into the door. I didn't play the role of a reporter - I was just a 20-something citizen who wanted to visit the newsroom and perhaps offer a story tip.
Access denied. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
What I imagine is a newsroom that is also a cafe. Of course the reporters would have desks somewhere private to do work (a 2nd floor would be ideal), but the front of the newsroom would be a public space where people could get coffee, eat a bagel, use the wireless, etc. At least one reporter would be on-hand to talk with members of the public during business hours. These would be publicly announced "office hours." We wouldn't make a big pony-show of it, it would just be a part of the cafe's appeal. You may just be hanging out - but perhaps you'll end up in a news story!
Aside from being a revenue stream (coffee, bagels, etc) it would create a deeper connection between the news organization and the public. Could story tips be garnered this way? Perhaps it would be a great way to meet and encourage citizen journalism partners. Could a "Newsroom Cafe" take on MediaBistro in the workshops/training department? Could the space eventually be used to organize civilized public debates? Is this something that could be franchised and repeated in the following cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, etc?
Sometimes you want to read a news site where everybody knows your name (sha-na-na-na). What better what to foster that then by having a space where citizens can feel like they own it? (Two journo-points to whomever guesses the music reference in my head. Hint it's NOT the theme song to Cheers).
If I were MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, Public-Press (all nonprofits) the HuffPost's local satellites, SFist, LAist, Chi-Town-Daily, The Windy Citizen, etc, or any other small journalism startup with a stake in location - this would be an interesting play. It would require a lot of capital and a partner in the food-service industry, but I suspect could be very lucrative, both for the business and the journalism.
Afterthought: I don't use the Chronicle as an example to beat up on them. I wouldn't be surprised if they have a need for security. Then again, the more you tighten control the more you need to have it. If the Chronicle started "office hours" - the first few weeks might be intense but if the attempt at opening up was earnest, I bet they'd get earnest (and constructive) feedback. Also - as we lose more newspapers and become reliant on smaller news organizations - there is less of a need for security and a stronger need for community.