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Road winds among the redwoods of Avenue of the Giants (Chris Willis) / CC BY 2.0

If you are interested in hearing about examples of community building and engagement by news outlets, then keeping an eye on the work of Digital First Media in the US is highly recommended.

It was two years ago when one of Digital First Media's companies, Journal Register Company, launched an open newsroom project at The Register Citizen in Torrington. The newspaper opened up its new office to the public in 2010, running a newsroom and cafe side-by-side, separated by a meeting table where journalists and readers could come together to discuss stories.

And now they're taking the lessons from this initiative and applying them to a new community news project, one of 12 being run across a number of titles within the company. Last month the company announced its plans to launch the new "community newsroom projects", which include "mobile community media labs" and community partnerships.

There will be a total of four "mobile community media labs" introduced, starting at the end of next month, operated by the San Jose Mercury News, the St Paul Pioneer Press, the York Daily Record and the New Haven Register.

In Connecticut the New Haven Register will be using the initiative to take a mobile approach to Torrington's open newsroom strategy with "mobile pop-up newsrooms", Matt DeRienzo, Connecticut group editor for the Journal Register Company, told, which will see staff take to a van and "show up with folding chairs, a folding table, and a wifi signal".

"We'll go to either parts of our coverage area we don't feel connected to or we'll go around a big news event and engage in conversation and let bloggers covering the same event use our wifi signal".

He added that bloggers will be able to partner with the news outlet in any way, from "informally to actually collaborating on reporting".

According to the May announcement, other news outlets will also be running mobile media labs "on the road", such as the San Jose Mercury News which will create a "pop-up living room" from which members of staff will also run classes and meetings.

Steve Buttry, director of community engagement & social media at Digital First Media, who has also blogged about the plans on The Buttry Diary blog, told newsrooms were asked to give ideas for community engagement projects, which prompted a number of proposals, including mobile initiatives.

"We're working on plans for all of them now. They typically will be a large van or SUV equipped with desks, lawn chairs, laptop computers, wifi and other equipment. We'll take them to events in the community and use them for news coverage and community engagement, ranging from blogging classes to working on stories."

He added that the overall aim across all the titles' activities will be "to bring our journalists into the community, help people launch their own blogs and do a better job covering their neighbourhoods and interests and involve them more in our staff's coverage of community events."

"I think the first one will be launching in late July at the opening of the Minnesota Vikings football training camp. We'll take them to community events, but also just set up shop for the day at community centres, schools, shopping mall parking lots and other places to meet with people."

The four newsrooms taking part of those who put forward the best proposal he added, and all also "serve a large metro area or region, and this allows us to reach people who would never visit our offices."

There will be more on about the Register Citizen's Newsroom Cafe and open newsroom strategy next week.

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