Most striking in its dedication to openness and transparency to its readers, however, is the fact that The Register Citizen opens its daily editorial meeting to the public, and live-streams it as well. Online viewers often send feedback through Twitter or a chatroom. And readers are encouraged to respond to stories published online, with corrections or additional context, via a new fact-check box below each post.
The staff of The Register Citizen is young, as it is in many small-market newspapers. Most of its reporters are in their twenties and half have been there for less than a year. One editor at JRC described her paper as a “teaching newspaper”—offering jobs with relatively low pay in smaller markets—that attracts college graduates but doesn’t necessarily keep them long. And for all the investment the new management has put into JRC, these have not necessarily included additional newsroom hires or pay raises.
“I’m pretty honest about our faults here with the community,” says Matt
DiRienzo DeRienzo, The Register Citizen’s publisher. “Because why try to ignore it? They can read the papers and see the one-source story, or the misspelled name or whatever. We have the same problems all small papers have.” So the open-newsroom initiative is undertaken in the spirit of increasing the paper’s credibility with its readers—to demonstrate that the staff will take responsibility for its shortcomings and do the best job it can with admittedly limited resources.
Improving The Register Citizen’s relationship with its community through its open newsroom project is not just an act of altruism; it’s a business decision. If the paper can attract new bloggers with its computer workstations and free classes, it can help expand the website’s coverage for no extra cost. Readers who visit editorial meetings often offer story ideas. Online editors constantly solicit readers’ photos and contributions to stories and graphics like “What’s the town’s most dangerous intersection?” JRC reporters, after all, can’t be everywhere.
Today and Tomorrow
For all the talk of growing online content and ads at JRC, the truth remains that 85 percent of all of the company’s ad revenue still comes from print—as is true for the industry average. Paton says he is confident that ratio will shift, but in the meantime, it’s a delicate balance that JRC has to maintain: putting its staff’s energy into the digital side of operations without neglecting the print side, where the bulk of the money is still made. So at the end of a long digital day, publishing news as it happens, in the new JRC model, short to long, fast to slow—SMS alert, tweet, web post, web feature, photos, and videos—what does the print product actually look like?
“Most of our editors are veteran print people, and we’re learning as we go along,” says Daily Freeman publisher Ira Fusfeld, who has worked at the paper since 1970. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s posed challenges to us. What can we put in print that’s different from the web, with a staff that’s no greater than it was before we had a website?” Not to mention the fact that having the Freeman’s print operations moved offsite means that their daily print deadline is three hours earlier than it once was.
JRC editors say that if a story has been online all day and it’s about to go into the next day’s newspaper, ideally it will be filled out with more context and additional sources. “When I started at the paper I never thought I’d work on a story today and it would be old today,” says New Haven Register city reporter Angela Carter. “We have a product that comes out ‘tomorrow.’ And so I’m thinking now about how to keep things fresh, and how not to have my stories look like yesterday’s website.”
They also say cross-promotion between print and online is key. Just as print stories feature icons indicating that they have accompanying videos online, which drive readers to the website, websites also promote special print sections—a full-color pull-out Phillies schedule at the start of the baseball season, for instance, to encourage single-copy sales of the Delaware County, Pennsylvania Daily Times.