The power of saying yes: The Register Citizen Open Newsroom project

I am fascinated by what’s going on at the Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project – I genuinely can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll read one of the team’s blog posts, look at some videos of opening day, and then go about my usual daily whatevers. Then, a while later, I find myself back reading another blog post by or about the project, looking at some more videos or photos, and still I am fascinated/impressed/jealous/desperate to steal their idea and do it too.

I know how hard it can be to get things done in mainstream media. The simplest of things – from replacing a lost cable on a piece of kit to adding a bit of code that lets users retweet stories – can take an age to achieve because media firms are big companies. And in big companies, fairly little tweaks tend to pass through several pairs of hands even though everyone agrees it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes they get caught in the cog wheels of corporate mechanisms. Or someone in charge of a part of the project leaves, and there’s no one to take up the slack… the reasons not to complete things stack up ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

But, just sometimes, someone says yes and things happen. I remember David Higgerson and I pitching the ‘let’s liveblog a day in the life of the Liverpool Daily Post‘ to the editor in early 2008, and he said yes. It felt so good to have someone say ‘yes’ without shining a light in every dark corner to spot the potential problems. We didn’t really know what we were getting into but we made it through ok and you know what? The paper still comes out, and the website is still there. The sky did not fall in for want of rubber-stamping.

But the Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project is another proposition altogether and I would love to know the steps by which it was achieved, and how long it took to get there. Because it takes the whole idea of open journalism and transparency to a new level by inviting people – anyone – to ‘come in and be part of the operation’.
Just stop and consider that for a minute; most newsrooms have policies on the numbers of people who can physically enter the editorial space – there’s the security issue, the health and safety issue, the inevitable fire risk assessment – that can make inviting people to see us in action difficult.
The Register Citizen has spilled itself out, however, and engulfed the community, rather than the other way around; this is clever. It’s made a public space – a newsroom cafe – and occupied that, alongside all the locals who chose to occupy it as well.

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe from Journal Register Company on Vimeo.

Another thing I love about it is that John Paton doesn’t just say things, he does them.
He says:

Lousy journalism on multiple platforms is just lousy journalism in multiple ways.


Stop focusing on the Print. It is in any newspaper’s DNA. It is not like you are going to forget to put out the newspaper. 

and (drum roll)

Put the Digital people in charge – of everything.

Really everything? Because, uh, I’m a digital person and I wouldn’t want to handle the payroll. But, joking aside, I get what he means. It’s like Opposite Day in the Register newsroom – instead of putting things in the paper then putting them online (unless it’s breaking news that everyone has, in which case it’s not considered precious) they do things the other way around. And online (and real world debate, courtesy of their public space) informs their print coverage. It’s so simple, and yet my brain struggles to grasp how someone managed to turn a ‘Why don’t we…’ into an actual, physical reality without crashing into a million different versions of “Yes, but…”.

Finally, there’s John Paton on the Benjamin Franklin Project:

We are changing our culture at JRC.With lousy I.T, and tools this project is happening. We have built sales support systems using an iPhone and free Google tools.
We have successfully printed pages on a press using only free web tools.
The next time some rep comes to your shop brandishing a $20M system – tell the price just went down. Way down.
Our Capital Expenditures have been reduced by half. Half.
But more importantly –
We have harnessed the power of our employees
And are starting to create a culture where they are empowered to experiment
We share all of the information and tools publicly.

Of all the things he says in that paragraph, the one that could make a difference is about Cap Ex being reduced by half. Because the money-go-round is where people start paying attention.

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