TAKING JOURNALISM BACK TO ITS COMMUNITY ROOTS -- THE COFFEE HOUSE
Eighteenth-century English and Colonial America coffee houses served as headquarters for shipping news and havens for gatherings of patriots. They were crucibles for democracy, a shared space for uninhibited debate and discussion of issues and events. Could 21st-century coffee shops -- well connected and served by a circuit-riding journalists -- help bring journalism back to community?
Initial ideas for "Rebooting Rockwell's America: News, Art and Community" germinated about two years ago, as Bill Densmore, a researcher on journalism's future, and David Scribner, a writer former editor of The Berkshire Eagle, shared a idea: What would happen if a trained reporter rode a circuit of coffee shops and cafes within the Berkshires, meeting with citizens on a regular schedule, convening public discussions using the latest WiFi and multimedia mobile reporting technologies?
In the United States, and worldwide, advances in information technology have accelerated the pace at which news can be delivered electronically to and among consumers. In addition, new ways of delivering advertising messages have tended to decouple the business of advertising from the presentation of news. As a result, and particularly in industrialized countries, and areas with developed telecommunications infrastructure, the advertising revenues of newspapers are shrinking. Many newspapers have consolidated or lost circulation, have reduced their reporting staffs, closed satellite offices and curtailed deliveries. At the same time, the public in increasingly accustomed to interactive, real-time communication via email, blogs and forms of social media. Experts such as Robert Putnam, writing in his book, “Bowling Alone,” see a link between active news consumption and active civic involvement at the local level. There is a need for a service which links news and community at the local level, using the best tools of physical and virtual engagement. Newshare is a proposal for creating and sustaining civic engagement through a network of coffeeshops, libraries and cultural institutions which double as community news and social-networking centers.
The news venues: Coffee shops, cafes, libraries, cultural institutions
Newshare is a concept for adding to current local coffeehouses, libraries or cultural institutions a news-sharing component. It would encourage public discourse and civic discussion of local issues and news that would then be translated for promulgation on a Newshare Web site, for radio and video broadcast and Web streaming, and for collection in a print product. Newshare venues are hyperlocal, accessible and transparent focal points for disseminating information and sharing ideas.
In addition, the coffeehouses might have physical components and events that create the Newshare identity within the coffeehouse environment. The Newshare would have designated “Newshours,” when Newshare staffers would be in residence to collect and edit material submitted by Newshare members and others, and to update the Web site. A signature Newshare event might be the biweekly “Town Meeting,” during which people gather to discuss the news that’s been generated by the Newshare: news generated within the café about the world outside the café. At this meeting, the Newshare print edition might be distributed.
Newshare is a sustainable model for local, community journalism that looks to history for its physical manifestation, yet makes the best use of the Internet as converged, accessible media platforms including producting a weekly mini-DV “newsreel” for screening at the start of movies at local movie theatres.
Among components which a reference Newshare system might include:
- A mechanism for Newshare members, affiliates, licensees and other units to share news, announcements, listings and advertising and other multimedia resources among each other across a network.
- A mechanism for the creation and maintenance of a fee-based membership that would have access to Newshare services based upon the level of subscription.
- A mechanism for individuals and groups to submit news, announcements, listings and advertising and other multimedia resources to individual Newshare community editors, sponsors or hosts, and Newshare media affiliates.
- A mechanism for Newshare members, affiliates, licensees and other units to coordinate the solicitation, sale, production, presentation, personalization, customization, aggregation and financing of advertising and other sponsor messages.
- A mechanism for aggregating, sharing, tracking, customizing, personalizing and settling compensation among individual authors, producers, photographers, videographers, editors and other content creators across the Newshare network.
- A system for managing planning, scheduling, outfitting, accounting, managing and financing the Newshare service.
Newsharing would recreate the historic functions of the English coffeehouses which spawned journalism –- a crucible for democracy, a shared space in a coffeehouse to debate and discuss issues and events in order to establish a sense of shared concerns in the face of diverse, often divisive opinions; a meeting place where businessmen, artists, politicians, blue-collar workers can share the latest happenings around town, the news and issues of the day – in short, cofeehouses helped create a sense of community, and the Newshare idea proposes to recreate this essential environment.
Each Newshare shop will allocate space for a discrete “digital news space” (it can be little more than an extra, dedicated table with good Internet connectivity and a printer, and in its more elaborate configuration the Newshare service would also be equipped with a multimedia laptop and LCD projector. The Newshare can be a stand-alone installation, or be organized as a collaborative network in adjoining – or geographically and socially cohesive – communities where volunteers (and one or two staffers who ride the circuit among shops) gather news, views, images and voices for the Newshare Web site, to radio and PEG cable partners, to a monthly print partner, to produce a continuum of community dialogue and discussion.
For the Web, the cafes and coffee shops where meetings regular occur and news is discussed provide a physical manifestation for marketing and contact; for print, it restores a hyperlocal presence lost as many newspapers have closed bureaus. And for the cafe owner it provides instant community connection and viral marketing.
Newshare provides a venue to do what citizens from a diverse demographic in a democracy ought easily to be able to do – meet and talk. By adding the component of easy access to media consumption and creation, it directs conversation towards the civic sphere. It creates for the café a natural, branded niche at the center of that sphere, and its activities and forums would, of course, be available on the Web, to any community members wishing to access it. But in order to participate in the full Newshare process and content environment, people would have to go to the shop itself. Newshare takes advantage of the culture of modern coiffeehouses where people congregate for company and wireless access. Newshare offers them an avenue for connectivity to the democratic process, side by sie – and reinforces the re-emergence of America’s downtown cores and village centers as vigorous, vital locations for originating civic discourse and debate. Newshare, as a component of the coffeehouse, would become self-sustaining through advertising, sponsorships, donations and volunteerism, achievable either as a for-profit or not-for-profit entities.