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April 20 2012


The inside story of a local newspaper’s cafe project

At ISOJ, John White, deputy editor for online, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada, outlined the paper’s News Café.

A year ago, the Free Press created the café downtown, a space co-managed by a news organisation with a journalist in residence.

Part of the reason was that the paper itself moved out of town to an industrial park. But another reason was to broaden the audience for the paper, which is mostly 55 plus.

However, White noted that not everyone at the paper was behind the idea of a news café. He said resistance came from the board of directors and owners of the paper.

So he worked on a business plan to sell the idea to the Free Press. The plan stressed that the café had to be unique. The harder sell, though, was convincing journalists to work in the cafe and meet with the public.

The café would also break down barriers with the public, but also be a place to cultivate sources and get story ideas, given its central location downtown.

The location was also important as the café is in what used to be the newspaper centre of Winnipeg, so it was a good opportunity to reestablish the paper as a community focal point.

“Our readership is dying, literally dying,” said White, so the café was seen as a way of reaching a different demographic.

White admitted that despite his business arguments, the café was a hard sell. The turning point was meeting a restauranteur who wanted to open a new outlet.

The lure for the restauranteur was a link with an established brand in the city, with built-in marketing reach.

Today, the Free Press news café will host comedians or bands, and events will be streamed live.  The place will be packed, said White, and journalists can conduct interviews and create content.


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