Is Ottawa ready for a News Café?

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Imagine a cafe with a perfect view of a lively street corner from all its windows; smack downtown, it’s also in the middle a lively arts and cultural district. In the morning you can pop by for a morning latté and WiFi session; in the evening you can go there for a pre-show drink.  It’s  around the corner from city hall and the main police station, so it’s busy during the day serving city staffers, lobbyists, and journalists who need to be close to the City Hall beat.

Audio-visually it is fully equipped for use as a performance stage or for presentations and public meetings. It hosts debates and discussions on public issues; debates which are very likely to be covered by the city’s biggest newspaper, very likely, because it is the newspaper itself that runs the cafe.

In short, it’s a focal point for lively civic culture, so much so that the newspaper rotates a roster of reporters to work out of its shopfront, and patrons are encouraged to meet the on-duty journalist in person and talk about the issues of the day.

I was reminded of just such a place — The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe — by a tweet from the Citizen’s City Hall reporter David Reevely yesterday. David posted that he was about to brave the noon-time rainstorm to cycle west to meet with councilor Katherine Hobbs in Wellington Village, and I joked back that if he had his very own news cafe, she might come to him — and then I dropped a link to some camera phone  pictures snapped in Winnipeg earlier this month to show him what I meant, pics which are now the slideshow at the top of this post.

What do readers think? Would such a facility be a useful addition to our civic fabric? A few years ago we thought we might be getting something similar when the new CBC studios went in on Sparks Street, but although passers-by can view the studios through the big plate glass windows, there is no real opportunity for the street to interact with the facility. Rumour has it that bean-counters at CBC HQ in Toronto decided it would be more cost effective to use a plain-Jane doorway on Queen Street to be the building’s main point of entry, and so much for mixing it up with the public. Likewise for the A-Channel/CTV building in the Market – a building once full of shops and cafes that is now only accessible by going through security with a staffer.

In Ottawa it’s been left to new media enterprises like Media Style to meet the public halfway, with their emphasis on cupcake hospitality and their free podcasting/video-making facility. Still, it would be nice to think that sooner than later, some media enterprise  — private, co-operative, student-run — will have a proper storefront, where we can watch interviews as they happen, mix and mingle with patrons and journalists, suggest news stories, exchange information, entertain and be entertained, and exercise our citizenship in a way that complements the times we live in.

6 comments

  1. In general, I think this is an excellent idea, although I was going to meet Hobbs so she could show me around a particular neighbourhood. I have the luxury, for a city hall reporter, of working at city hall, so it’s pretty easy to run into/buttonhole city hall types when I need to, but sometimes you’ve gotta go see things for yourself. In general, not being shut away in offices is a really good thing for professional getters and disseminators of information.

    In Ottawa in particular, we’re still haunted by Jeffrey Arenburg’s killing of CJOH’s sportscaster Brian Smith in 1995. Arenburg, who heard voices, hung out outside CJOH’s studios and shot the first person to come out, who happened to be Smith. It could have happened anywhere, it didn’t really mean that Ottawa journalists are any more at risk from Arenburg types than they are anywhere else, but it’s amazing how it’s affected behaviour. It’s crossed my mind more than once when I’ve left the Citizen bunker at Pinecrest after a late shift.

  2. Is there anything Ian Capstick can’t do?

  3. Once upon a time, Arenburg case was one of my first jobs as a courtroom artist for TV news. I still remember the look he gave us all before he was escorted out of the dock. While it’s been a very long time since those first sketches for CBC, I can believe how the memory would have stuck in the culture of Ottawa’s news services.

  4. Where in Ottawa do you think the best place for a News Café would be?

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