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.
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.