Bringing the outside in, and reviving a newspaper library

After 105 years operating out of the same building in downtown Torrington, Conn., my newspaper will be moving soon to a new office.

And for 105 years, our business model has pretty much remained the same: Spitting out our version of the news once a day, on newsprint. Along the way, we merged the Torrington Register with the Winsted Evening Citizen, switched from afternoon to morning delivery, started using color ink, added a Sunday edition, and launched a Web site.
But really, not much about the process for gathering news, and the cycle by which we report it, changed through more than a century at 190 Water St.
Until now.
It might sound dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our group of newspapers, and our company, are going through the first real change in history to our core business model.
New CEO John Paton has declared a “digital-first” philosophy and aggressive goals for shifting focus, resources and profit centers away from the declining print manufacturing aspect of the business to reinvest the core franchise of journalism and advertising, across many different multimedia platforms. We will be a company that partners with the community, with citizen journalists, with entrepreneurial storytellers, rather than produce and peddle our “news product” in an isolated, one-way process.

Our office move is both prompted by these changes – and has taken on more significance because of them.
We see it as an opportunity to tell this story.
But also to build a physical space that reflects a philosophy of “bringing the outside in.”
What we have in mind is the combination of a “Community Journalism Lab” that would offer public wi-fi, computer work stations and staff assistance and training to community bloggers and citizen journalists, and an opening of our newspaper archives to the general public for research, genealogy projects, etc.
We have newspaper editions on microfilm going back to the 1800s, and an incredible filing system on index cards that stops abruptly in the mid-90s when the newspaper’s librarian position was eliminated, but is still an invaluable and precious record of our community’s history.
These files currently reside in a dark and dusty, closet-like room in our newspaper offices and are shut off to the public except by special request.
We would like to open them to everyone, to let people know they exist, and to incorporate their availability into a broader engagement of the community and citizen journalists in telling the story of present-day Torrington and how the past weaves into that story.
We expect it to also drive discussions about how to digitize all of these archives and allow us to truly “bring the outside in” without it requiring a trip to our physical location.
What do you think?
Any ideas on the physical setup of something like this, or creative and/or practical thoughts on how we can use it to improve our reporting of the news and engagement with readers?

Published by mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked in journalism for more than 25 years as a reporter, editor, publisher, director of news and journalism nonprofit executive director. As vice president of news at Hearst Connecticut, he led a newsroom of more than 175 people, instilling a culture of investigative reporting, and growing audience while launching a paid digital subscription model at six daily newspapers. While there, he oversaw a national investigation into sex abuse at Boys & Girls Clubs that was recently recognized with an Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) national award, as well as the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. As the first full-time executive director of LION, a nonprofit supporting local independent online news organizations across the country, he started with an annual budget of $30,000 and helped bring in more than $2 million over three years from funders including the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, Inasmuch Foundation (Ethics & Excellence in Journalism), and Facebook, while tripling the organization’s membership. As a publisher, he was an early leader in reader and community engagement, launching North America’s first “newsroom café,” which opened a Connecticut daily newspaper’s doors to the public, and which was recognized with the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Innovator of the Year Award. As editor of the New Haven Register, he led a team of more than 100 journalists borrowed from around the country and on his own staff in covering the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its aftermath. During his tenure in New Haven, the Register also received the Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Most recently, he has done consulting work for Local Media Association on fundraising from foundations and individual giving in support of local news organizations. He co-managed the Facebook Journalism Project’s recent COVID-19 Relief grant program, which received more than 2,000 applications and is part of $25 million in funding Facebook has earmarked to help local news organizations through this crisis. He was a Sulzberger fellow at Columbia University in 2018, and has taught reporting, editing and multimedia journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University. His column about the journalism industry has appeared in Editor & Publisher magazine since January 2016. He is a full-time single dad of two who has been active in Northwest Connecticut as a board member of the Susan B. Anthony Project, a domestic and sexual violence support and advocacy, and previously as a longtime United Way board member and two-time annual fund chairman.

One thought on “Bringing the outside in, and reviving a newspaper library

  1. Matt – I think you and your team are doing a terrific job – embracing new concepts about delivering news and information. You've put the RC back on the map – so to speak. Bravo.


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