By John Rieti
Last week journalist Mark Luckie walked into a Berkeley Starbucks. He ordered a cinnamon dolce latte and some instant coffee to bring back to the newsroom, then he sat down by the door, where everybody could see him, and got to work calling sources and writing stories.
A simple act. But committing an act of journalism outside of the newsroom can seem downright revolutionary these days.
“(Journalists) are always in this confined office, always talking with each other and collaborating on stories, but to be out in public and be among people … like non-journalists … was very refreshing,” says Luckie.
The café experiment was part of California Watch's "Open Newsroom" day. The plan was to allow journalists to connect with readers, and, to give journalists a nudge out the door and into the city they cover.
“I think the project was a great idea,” says Luckie. “We were all expecting to be bombarded with people … or at least have a steady flow of people coming in.”
Blame it on the Berkeley rain — uncool weather for the golden state — or maybe blame it on the coffee. Or, just maybe, people didn't approach Luckie because despite having their names (and sometimes faces) in print, most journalists spend more time in cubicles than on the street.
Yes, lots of journalists are mainstays at council meetings and in the corridors of courthouses, but most file the bulk of their stories from the newsroom.
(I, it must be said, am one of those reporters, but mostly because I must remain within earshot of the police scanners.)
So, should more of us be taking our show on the road? I asked Luckie about the pros of writing in public.
“I think when you see the people you’re writing about you inject more feeling and more of a human element to your stories,” says Luckie, who also writes the blog 10,000 words about the craft of storytelling.
While he didn't get any story ideas (another goal of California Watch's), Luckie did field a few questions. “When you’re making calls in front of people and discussing issues … people were kinda looking over like ‘Who’s that guy?’” says Luckie with a laugh.
Perhaps, if the open newsroom is looking for future ideas, it could experiment with a public story meeting of sorts.
There were a few difficulties, though. As Luckie wrote a loud argument broke out between a guy who was taking self-portraits for his website and the Starbucks’ manager.
Luckie was also distracted by another scene.
“One woman had a coffee, but pulled a bottle of wine out of her bag and started pouring a glass," Luckie says.
But don’t those things all happen in the newsroom?
“Maybe just not all at the same time.”
So what do you think? Should Star journalists take our work to a cafe near you?
John Rieti is a caffeine-addled Master of Journalism student at Ryerson University who can routinely be found getting his fix at Bulldog Cafe. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.