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Summary:

The Guardian has gotten a fair amount of ribbing on Twitter for opening a coffee shop in London, but the venture is just another element in the newspaper’s attempt to open up its journalism and engage more with its readers.

Given its status as a leading player in the future of journalism debates — and the penchant many Brits have for puncturing egos — it’s not surprising that the Guardian‘s launch of a coffee shop sparked a roast of a different kind on Twitter Wednesday night, under the hashtag #guardiancoffee. But while the move may be ripe for skewering, there is a serious motive at the heart of what the Guardian is trying to do, which is to make it easier for journalists to connect with the people formerly known as the audience.

The facts are these: The Guardian (please see disclosure below) has opened a small shop called #GuardianCoffee in the fashionable neighborhood of Shoreditch in London, near the newspaper’s headquarters. It offers coffee from a local roaster, as well as iPads that are free to use — and Guardian social-media editor Joanna Geary apparently plans to spend at least some of her time in the shop, interacting with readers as well as doing live interviews.

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The launch generated some fairly predictable reactions: the idea that this would give new meaning to the “daily grind” of a journalist’s life, some pointed comments about how the salary of the baristas at the Guardian coffee shop (reportedly up to $52,000) would make the job look pretty good to many struggling reporters, and some comments about how customers would have to make their orders conform to the Guardian‘s left-leaning focus (i.e., no calling your coffee “black”).

The idea of having an “open newsroom” that allows journalists to mingle with readers and have coffee or other condiments around isn’t new: the Torrington Register Citizen in Connecticut, part of Digital First Media, opened up its newsroom to the community in 2010 and offered coffee and internet access — readers are also invited to attend story meetings, and can get help with tips on reporting or video editing if they want to practice any “citizen journalism.”

Coffee, sandwiches and journalism

The Winnipeg Free Press in Manitoba, Canada also launched a coffee shop venture called the News Cafe in 2011, where some of the paper’s journalists spend part of their time in the shop interacting with readers, and the newspaper does live interviews and contests (Note: An editor emailed me to say journalists don’t regularly work in the cafe, but the live events are very popular). The cafe even gets good ratings for its coffee and sandwiches on the Urbanspoon app, although one commenter says the latte is “rubbish.”

In a sense, the Guardian’s coffee shop is just another element of editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger’s approach to opening up the journalistic process, which has also involved allowing readers into the story selection process and launching a mobile app that encourages users to post tips and contribute to stories in other ways. Rusbridger talked about the idea of open journalism during an interview at our recent paidContent Live conference in New York, which is embedded below.

Update: A reader noted that an ambitious project by an investment firm in the Czech Republic aimed at opening a chain of hyperlocal newspapers and coffee shops failed and was shut down in 2010.

Disclosure: Guardian News & Media is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM/paidContent.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Arvind Grover and Jim Waterson

  1. Daniël Crompton Thursday, May 30, 2013

    NRC (http://www.nrc.nl/) in Amsterdam has done the same

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    1. Thanks, Daniel!

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  2. elliot herman Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Taz in Berlin also has a well established coffee shop http://www.taz.de/zeitung/tazcafe/

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    1. Mathew Ingram Thursday, May 30, 2013

      Thanks for that, Eliot.

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  3. Hi Matthew,

    Great piece, thank you. I just wanted to make clear that, whilst I really hope I’ll get to spend some time there talking to people, it will be our tech reporters – particularly head of technology Jemima Kiss (https://twitter.com/jemimakiss) – who will be reporting from #GuardianCoffee. Shoreditch is known for being an area with a really vibrant tech community. It’s a perfect place for the team to spend some of their time.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Joanna — and best of luck with the project!

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  4. communicable Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Monocle has opened a few coffee shops and retail store; they even have their own radio show. Might be a beat model for newspapers to watch.

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  5. fats brannigan Thursday, May 30, 2013

    The association between coffee shops and newspapers in London goes back to the 18th century

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    1. Indeed it does — and cultural historians have pointed out that coffee shops themselves functioned as newspapers (in terms of spreading news) before newspapers as we know them were even invented.

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  6. I will go visit it soon :)

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  7. Just wanted to point out that the Windsor Star in Windsor, Ont., Canada has opened up a news cafe.

    http://www.windsorstar.com/life/News+cafe+designed+with+mind/8380175/story.html

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    1. Mathew Ingram Thursday, May 30, 2013

      Thanks, Josh.

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  8. I live in Winnipeg. I’ve seen the “Winnipeg Free Press” cafe. It doesn’t look any different from any other ‘yuppie’ stop–they blend right in. They facility-manage separate entities that ‘rent’ the place for events, per se; they bring in bands (and ‘hopefully’ pay them.)

    In the age of internet sourced content, you would HOPE places like these would encourage more interaction with disparate minds.

    But they don’t. They simply promote the same kind of exclusivity that every bricks and mortar club has ever done.

    And, of course, it’s predicated on ‘buying’ something. Right…

    Great concept for the paper running it. Maybe they can make the money back in coffee sales that they lose to the free “Metro” paper advertisers here.

    I don’t think there’s anyone that can compete with the free exchange that the internet allows.

    That’s the beauty of it.

    Heather
    wordwan

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  9. bart brouwers Friday, May 31, 2013

    This was Prague, back in 2010 – http://trueslant.com/bartbrouwers/2010/03/18/caffeine-flavored-future-for-hyperlocal-journalism/ – Unfortunately the coffee shops were closed due to a change in ownership of the newspapers, but still, it was a good idea. I used it for my own hyperlocal project, but eventually we didn’t go as far as to really own the bars.

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  10. Raf Weverbergh Saturday, June 1, 2013

    I’m getting an insta-flashback to “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere”, in which Habermas explains how modern journalism has its roots in London coffee shops in the (17th?) century. Here’s the book, if you’re interested: http://pages.uoregon.edu/koopman/courses_readings/phil123-net/publicness/habermas_structural_trans_pub_sphere.pdf

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    1. Yes, a number of people have mentioned Habermas and his thoughts about the connection between journalism and coffee shops — thanks for the link!

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