When you need a guard for the newsroom

Screenshot 2015-01-14 16.32.28One of the unfortunate trends of recent years, at least among small newsrooms, is the perceived need to protect reporters and editors from the public.

With the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in France, this may be a fresh topic of discussion at some newspapers. But I think the decisions already have been made at most places as to whether readers can just walk in and talk to people in the newsroom, or whether there needs to be a guard or some kind of security to keep them out.

Certainly at metro papers, there has long been been a guard stationed in the lobby, or at least a receptionist who presumably would be the first line of defense.

At smaller papers, though, I had worked in newsrooms where people could walk in the front door and go straight to my desk. I don’t think that’s possible anymore. I know of one small newspaper in Nevada that installed bullet-proof glass in the lobby because of threats.

All that security is sad to me. It’s a lost connection with readers, which is the most useful tool journalists have. Reporters and photographers (and salespeople) are out in the community all day every day. But we discourage the community from coming into the newsroom? Makes no sense.

I understand the fear. I’ve had people who were so mad the spit flew to my face, and I’ve had my share of enraged phone callers. But as the Charlie Hebdo shooting illustrated, and so many other shootings have proved, a determined gunman isn’t likely to be stopped, or long deterred, even when police are there.

It’s been four years since The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., opened its Newsroom Cafe — a combination of library, coffeehouse and media lab adjacent to the newsroom. People were invited to browse, blog, read and converse. They could sit in on editorial meetings. They could learn how to write a press release. Local artists were put on display.

They call it a place “to consume and contribute to local news.”

This is the model to embrace. When you need a guard for the newsroom, the newsroom might as well be in an ivory tower.

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