Journalism Business Idea – the Newsroom Cafe

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:

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 way 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.

43 thoughts on “Journalism Business Idea – the Newsroom Cafe”

  1. That’s a cool idea.
    I don’t know how much of the public really has an interest in going to the newspaper to talk to journalists, though. It would be interesting to see.

    Sadly, only rarely there’s money for such projects in newspapers these days.

  2. I love the cafe idea. About a year ago I wrote ( that media companies should open up coffee shops. “The idea is to bring people to you. Coffee shops attract smart, trendy, cultural, web-savvy, creative people, in general, or exactly the type of people media companyâ??s need to tap into in order to grow.”

    My post was based on one by Steve Outing called, “Why news companies should go into the Internet cafe business”

    I’m all for it. Good idea.

  3. That’s a great idea, Dave — it reminds me of something my friend Ethan Kaplan from wrote back in 2005:

    “Take the third floor (newsroom). Move them out and cut some staff. Put them in a big warehouse type space that was computers on the outside wall, and conversation areas inside. Make this warehouse in a public space, open to the public. Put in a coffee bar, open wifi and invite the consumer to come in. Leverage the content the consumer creates in this environment so that the reader is also the (co) writer.”

    more here:

  4. Mathew and Jason

    Thanks for the links. I suspected that this was something that other people have thought/talked about.

    I really do think it has potential to be a small, but thriving side business for news organizations. And although not directly – I think it could have a positive influence on the reporting.

  5. Dave Winer has also written a lot over the years about the idea of an open newsroom for bloggers… For instance here

    “Iâ??d like to see open newsrooms so bloggers can start working together collaboratively. I think the local professional news organizations should host this.”

    Also here:

    So far I don’t think anyone has tried it seriously or in a sustained way…

  6. Terrific idea, a variation of which is used pretty regularly in Eastern Iowa and probably other places. Reporters and editors hang out at prearranged, publicized times in various locales to have coffee and conversation with anyone who wants to stop by. I don’t think it takes a million bucks to do that much.

    I do like the cafe idea. I’m sitting in a cafe right now with my French roast refill. Don’t see any reporters.

  7. Even for hyperlocal citizen journalists, this makes a great deal of sense.

    Smaller-scale publishers can keep regular hours in a wifi-equipped coffee house or potentially sublet space if they have the scale. This is better than doing all your work from home and would increase your connection to and visibility in the community.

  8. @Barry – very true. I work from home. But have often thought of just taking a coffee shop and getting into a routine there so that if people are in the area – they can expect to find me there. Alas…. I enjoy making my own tea.

  9. I think the newsroom cafe is a great idea. I know my newsroom is a bit like a fortress — for some real and some imagined reasons.

    But when I worked in one of our newspapers eight bureau offices (back before they were closed due to budget cuts) our bureau was like a cafe. I mean we didn’t have coffee or bagels, but folks dropped in all the time to chat, suggest ideas, etc.

    Yes, sometimes it was the same crank time and again. But listening to him was worth it for the connection to the community. The thing was readers felt like the bureau was sort of their space in a good way (most of the times.)

  10. So, apparently a lot of people have had the idea before. Who’s going to actually do it and report back?

    Maybe we can get someone at NewsInnovation PDX this weekend to take it up…

  11. @Daniel
    I would love to open up. But I work from home. But hey – anyone is welcome 😉

    As I said above: I’ve considered setting up shop at a cafe and just making it known that people can drop by. But I don’t have the capital to really create anything solid. As I said – this requires a lot of startup capital – but I think could yield something sustainable.

    The WaPo is somewhat floated by the other activities of the company that owns it. Perhaps cafe’s could float the journalism of a newsroom cafe?

  12. To add to the chorus of fellow-thinkers, this reminded me of an essay I wrote for API’s old Morph blog: If I could bend the world to my whims, I’d see our newsrooms exploded into a hundred little bits, as tiny, friendly and ubiquitous as coffee shops. People would flow in throughout the day and night to share news, comment on it, hear it. A hundred bureaus would strive to draw connections between their communities and the world around them. Letters to the editor would become conversations with editors and with fellow citizens.

    I still think it’s a good idea. At the time, I don’t remember whether I thought the cafe might actually supply the business model. 🙂

    Right around the time I wrote that essay, I was at the Star Tribune planning At the time, one or two Stribbers were convinced we should scrap the once-large marketing budget behind the site, buy a coffee shop, and make that a living advertisement/community-builder. (By launch, of course, the budget was significantly downsized, ending talk of any such crazy schemes.)

    I think something like this would be likeliest to occur if a cafe (or its regulars) decided to get into the journalism business, rather than the reverse. Although I could sort of imagine Tracy and Patrick at WestSeattleBlog setting up shop at one or two of Seattle’s famous coffee huts and plying their trade from there.

  13. I think it’s a great idea. However for us whatever capital it would take to do this is too much. Like @bjsmith I like the idea of promoting pre-arranged coffee (or tea) meet-ups at the local coffee shop. How about in addition you livestream the coffee meetup?

    I will say that our newsroom already is very accessible to the public but this would be proactive on our part to get the community involved.

    @Daniel we should definitely take this up at NewsInnovation PDX.

  14. An informal group of us at The Oregonian floated this idea among management and staff last year. We envisioned converting the lobby into a free-wifi coffee shop, with common seating areas for both reporters and the public, classified and circulation counters, a concierge desk, photo gallery and sales, big-screen projections of the OregonLive web site, and regular public presentations by reporters and photographers. Every single person who heard the idea was excited by the possibilities for breaking down barriers between the paper and the community, but like many good ideas, it never gained traction. (For the record, I took a buyout and left the paper late last year.)

  15. The BBC do something very similar to this in Birmingham, UK, with what they call their ‘Public Space’ a cafe which is built around one of their radio studios and looks into their newsroom.

    Members of the public have access to interactive screens where they can get info from how the news shows are put together to getting a job with the Beeb … all this while having a descent cup of coffee.

    BBC journalists TV/Radio/Online – who can be seen through a glass wall – are also encouraged to use the cafe (rather than the private staff one) and have meeting there.

    More info on the BBC site –

  16. Interesting idea. Are familiar with Pirate Cat Radio. Based in the Mission at Florida and 21st, Pirate Cat Radio is also Pirate Cat Cafe.

    Just the other day I drank coffee and watched/listened to the DJ spin some obscurities. They even had a band play live in the cafe and on the air, and ended the night with an open mic comedy session.

    As far as a opening a cafe/newsroom, I don’t see the hold up, except for a risky publication with some capital.

  17. Did I miss it somewhere in here? Family Ties! (And the coffee shop idea is a great one. We’ve joked about it here, too, but what if it really worked?)

  18. effing brilliant Dave! I don’t know how I missed this before. Journalism is fundamentally about serving a niche ∴ community. This brings that community to the ‘real world’ as well.

  19. Lemme go you one further: What if the journalist actually had office hours at other coffee shops.

    The project I’m working on involves setting up a small central office/hub. But instead of checking in to the office every day, the writers and editors would be expected to work from out in the community. For example, the head of a local neighborhood association has offered up a desk at their office for use.

    Beyond that, there are dozens of other coffee shops, diners, bars, hotel lobbies and other central public areas from which reporters could work. Additionally, if the journalists were held to be public identities, complete with photos on the web site, contact info, hours, etc., people would know them and where they are at certain times.

    Point being, put the journalists out where the people are, instead of expecting the people to come to them.

    Also, I’ve worked for several newspapers, and the whole security / key card / identification thing bugs the living daylights out of me too. What, the community information source isn’t a public place? Bollocks, I say!

  20. Here’s what I think we need to realize. WE are not interesting. Trust me, we’re not! Regular people do not want to hang with reporters. But they do really like a social space where they can gather to consume information they like, surrounded by people they like. Kinda like a
    Sports Bar! Kinda like a Jazz Club. In the Sports Bar you create a pleasant space for a share activity, they eat and drink, you pay the expense of High Def presentation, and walk away with the profit (or stipends for reporters/producers. In a jazz club, the music is a necessary expense to gather a group of people who spend $ to eat and drink and use the music as their focus of attention. The most meaningful way for us to pursue is to think: business model. How expensive should a beer be at the Content Bar that would allow a revenue stream. All else is futuristic wishful thinking. And rememeber!!! reporters are not the draw!

  21. @bcalo
    You are right – reporters are not the draw. They are part of it. The real draw will be the same as the initial draw of Starbucks. It’s a local place with character.

    The reporters/newsroom adds to that character. But it’s not like I’m suggesting a reporter wearing a fedora hat greet you at the door and call you mack or buddy.

  22. What about combining the newsroom/cafe with your local library? The library has a ready-made group of citizens who like to read, it is a place where community discussions already take place, and it is filled with resources and librarians who can help both the journalists and the citizens.

  23. Cool idea, but if the big businesses can’t think out side the box, society has a way of marching on. As I visited coffee shops around the US, the availability of internet hot spots causes these cafes to become open offices. All you need is someone to post a sign on the back of their laptop that says “I’m a reporter, talk to me if you have a great story idea!”

    A coffee shop has a very diverse cross section of people and this could result in a business idea just waiting for someone to try. I’m not a reporter in the sense of writing for traditional media, but do report on the best business ideas that I find.

    If you decide to try the sign on your PC, write a blog about the experience.

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