Newsroom as a cafe

Pied Cow, Newsroom as a cafe

David Cohn pegs a newsroom as a cafe where people can hang out and, through food and drink purchase, provide an alternate source of revenue for reporting. Twenty percent of every coffee you bought might go to reporting in your local community, or something like that. For Steve Outing, the newsroom as a cafe is a place for your people to connect so that you can have greater access to your community. Both of these are pieces of a bigger picture that’s been stewing in me for a couple of months; dessert and beer at the Pied Cow on Belmont last night provided a photograph to illustrate my idea.

It’s not just about using a different industry to add to reporting revenue, but rather repositioning the news organization as the information hub for the community. The newsroom as a cafe should be an 18th century salon, or space for the leading discussions of the day to take place, ferment, and spawn action.

Mark this idea as incomplete until I can start working on it. At the moment, I think it would include:

Realtime data streams about the community on the walls. Twitter, Flickr, and every other service that expresses data against geography in some regard. The reporting work done by the news organization and stringers would come in realtime as well; see the reporting as it happens. You could build an app that visualized the trending topics of the aggregate of those services.

Editorial meetings that are open to the public. Highly-engaged members of the community can come in and participate in the process to decide what gets reported on each week. All of the possibilities are generated beforehand with a kickass web app where authenticated people help identify all of the things that need to be reported on in the community (i.e. information that needs to be generated).

Workshops for community youth on hacking new tools to mash up regional data. Part of the attendance requirement would be that they then have to give a presentation back to the community on how they did it.

Equipment rental. Members can check out audio recorders or digital SLRs to cover the local city council meeting.

Chai, but not the spiced kind. Just straight up black tea, milk, and sugar.


Cody Brown June 12, 2009 Reply

I think this is a fascinating idea for more of it’s symbolic connotations.

Instead of buying an office – Tech Crunch should have just bought a cafe in Palo Alto and decked it out.

Bryan Murley June 12, 2009 Reply

Interestingly, I made an argument for this type of “open newsroom” to the Next Newsroom Project, funded by a Knight grant.

Scott Hunter June 12, 2009 Reply

I agree with all of this (except for the non-spice chai) and have fantasized about doing such a think in our own newspaper (I publish a community weekly). Thanks for crystalizing these thoughts and making it seem like a real idea, and thanks to @JayRosen for tweeting about it to point me here.

Now if anyone would care to develop a realistic business model to go with the pipe dream, I might even try the plain chai.

Ryan Thompson June 12, 2009 Reply

This is already going on in many cafes. The idea could be extended, but then it wouldn’t really be a cafe anymore, would it? Gravity comes to mind, we’ll see how that goes. interesting nonetheless. Good luck.

Chris Amico June 12, 2009 Reply


I think you could sell this on the premise that it puts journalists that much closer to presumably better coffee. It’s not just bringing the newsroom to Starbucks (or Caribou Coffee), it’s bringing Starbucks to the newsroom. Plus anything that reminds readers/users that reporters are, really, humans, not machines designed to manufacture inverted pyramids.

Josh Stearns June 12, 2009 Reply

Daniel – I appreciated this vision of a newsroom/salon/cafe. I like the way this embraces news as process instead of focusing on news as product, and brings together the diverse models of online/offline into a physical space.

For years my wife and I have hosted an open weekly potluck in our community and some of the best ideas, writing, projects and activism had its roots there. Would love to see a similar journalism salon start up.

Roland Legrand June 12, 2009 Reply

Interesting idea. One might also consider the possibility of having a virtual newsroom, which could facilitate access and participation.
What should be tackled however is how we can prevent the community being hijacked by very partisan or militant groups, who could mobilize members so as to try and impose their vision in the newsroom.

Joey Baker June 12, 2009 Reply

Frackin’ genius sir. I’ve seen both Dave and Steve Outing’s posts before, but I like your solid plan. Putting the live info on the walls is real smart.

Why are we not doing this?

Daniel June 12, 2009 Reply

Joey. Dude. Why are some newspapers jacking up the price of their website pay wall to try and revalue the print edition? I don’t have a legit explanation for that thinking. When I start my news organization, it’s going to have a damn slick cafe. I’m serious about covering walls with displays. If you watch the videos that the Nieman Lab published, you’ll see that TPM has probably the highest screen to office space ratio of any of them.

Bryan Murley June 12, 2009 Reply

It’s not just bringing the newsroom to Starbucks (or Caribou Coffee), it’s bringing Starbucks to the newsroom.

Let’s not be so quick on the Starbucks train, ok? Do we all want a takedown from Jon Stewart?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10cMorning Joe’s Sarcastic Starbucks Sponsorshipthedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Bryan Murley June 12, 2009 Reply

Well,that link seemed to be screwed. Search for “Morning Joe” to get the full effect.

Alan Mairson June 12, 2009 Reply

Hi Daniel — Something must be in the air because yesterday I put up a post (’s also keyed to David’s (and Steve’s) Newsroom Cafe. But I’m working another side of this idea: instead of congregating around the process, which is vital, you can also gather around the product. My proposed beer-and-magazine “book” group is not an end point, of course — just the beginning of the news cycle’s next revolution.

Alexandre Gamela June 12, 2009 Reply

In Portugal -where i live- we have a strong cafe culture, it’s where we meet and hang out, and have our expresso. This would work perfectly. Great post.

Digidave June 12, 2009 Reply

Yea – I still think about this. If I wasn’t doing Spot.Us – hands down this is what I’d be trying to figure out. I did a follow up post or two (I’ll try and dig them up). It would take a lot of startup capital – but man – it would be cool!!!!!!

Dan C. June 16, 2009 Reply

This is an idea with legs… even if I don’t fully comprehend its details, it resonates.

Mebbe it has something to do with my memories of Neal Stephenson’s “Quicksilver,” which stuck with me because the London “Exchange” was as much an information nexus as it was a financial transactor. The coffee houses? Places where people went to get news. A boat portage on the Thames? Speculators shout down to the new arrivals seeking information that could affect their investments. And so on.

What we’ve learned from years of experimentation in cyberspace is that connections made online become more valuable when translated into meatspace relationships. Could the digital commons spark a return to some kind of physical meeting space? It’s all very abstract to me at the moment, but it has the marking of a good idea because it MOVES.

Daniel June 16, 2009 Reply

Definitely. The concept of a newsroom as a cafe most importantly presents a framework to me for how I might think about the physical space associated with a community news operation (or any news operation whose community is a geographic space). There are principles (such as the cafe should have open conversations that anyone can be a part of) and components (realtime local data streams visualized on the walls making the space immersive), but the execution of both is going to depend on circumstances, scale, etc.

Hypothetical scenario: you’ve got a police shooting at one of the bus stations. I think it would be more likely that you’d get the information by police blotter, someone calling in, etc. but that information could be visualized on the walls, thus making whomever is in the cafe at that time as much of a person to parse the information as the reporter. The coffee drinker spots the event in progress, notifies the reporter, and anyone who wants to gets to help generate a list of the questions the community might want answered about the incident.

xarkGirl June 16, 2009 Reply

Love it. I have always been enamored of the salon, the mingling of disciplines like o’keeffe and stieglitz. It’s an interesting concept for journalism.

Josh June 16, 2009 Reply

Dan – it’s not such a hypothetical. During the RNC in the Twin Cities one local media group – The Uptake – rented out a huge space in downtown and subletted it out to a range of local and national independent journalist groups who were in town. When the protests and journalist arrests began their big open space became a central hub for news and information and journalists began working together and collaborating across outlets to report on the events.

William Hamilton June 18, 2009 Reply

All the high tech stuff is great, but don’t underestimate the value of hanging a few whiteboards on the wall and stringing up some whiteboard pens (so people don’t just walk off with them by accident). Just have staff wipe them clean every morning. That will keep things fresh.

Greg Linch June 28, 2009 Reply

I found this Fast Company article yesterday (still catching up with Google Reader), which includes the cafe idea and screens on the walls:

(via CICM blog)

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