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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: The newsroom takes coffee to town

By Tom Warhover
January 25, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Mike Matthes holds weekly discussions at coffee shops. No intimidating office. No office assistants to defer or deflect. Just the manager and anyone who signed up to grab a cup of joe and sit down to chat.

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Others, including former councilman Karl Skala, have held similar gatherings in the past. It’s an idea worth emulating. And so the Missourian will.

Assistant community outreach director Kelly Moffitt brought the idea of a regular “Missourian coffee” to the monthly Readers Board last week. Members immediately endorsed it. Then they began to add their own suggestions:

Make sure that it’s moved around; not everyone likes to come downtown. Find places where different communities gather. Don’t assume everyone can afford a cup of coffee — or even likes the stuff. Have permanent editors there, because they’ll be around long after a student-journalist leaves. Don’t make formal appointments (like the manager’s meetings) but be sure at least one person plans to attend to start the conversation.

Moffitt took notes. Expect to see dates and places for Missourian chats announced soon.

Why? It’s pretty simple. Editors want to hear your ideas and complaints about the Missourian. You might want to air them. Perhaps more important are your thoughts on the problems and promises in our city or beyond. A deeper understanding of the community makes for a better newspaper.

You might just want to know how the sausage is made. I’m constantly surprised and delighted when people want to know who writes the headlines, how the staff decides what to put on the front page or home page or how an idea for a story germinates and grows.

There’s nothing more fun for me than to curl my hand around a cup of “rocket fuel” at Coffee Zone or Colombia Monserrate at Kaldi's and talk about journalism and Columbia.

You are also invited to the newsroom. Each day, the Missourian holds an open meeting to critique what it has done and to plan for what’s coming up.

For more than seven years, the Missourian policy has been to allow and encourage citizen participation. By the reaction of the Readers Board, which includes many longtime readers, I haven’t done a very good job with the encouragement part — none of the members at the meeting knew of this daily meeting or of its open nature.

Oops.

So let me formally invite you, dear reader, to our morning news meeting. It’s held at 11 a.m. in the main newsroom — “on the floor,” as journalists often call it. The meeting is generally divided into two parts. First, staffers critique items published in the past day or two. What went well? Were there errors? Did we give the right priorities to the biggest news items, and did we display them in a way that reflected the importance to the community? Then the reporters and editors talk about what’s coming up. More than simply taking inventory, the morning meeting is an opportunity to identify stories that are not being developed or to brainstorm new ways to report and think about the stories that are in the works.

The Missourian building is at the corner of Eighth and Elm streets, and the newsroom is on the top floor. When you come, just let someone know you’re here so that we can introduce you.

Several Readers Board members thought the idea of attending the meeting was cool, but they also said it could be intimidating as an outsider in a roomful of journalists. That may explain why there have been few people to join us, even when the invitation was first made. I promise: These journalists don’t bite.

Even so, Moffitt and community outreach director Joy Mayer are planning to let you in on what’s discussed at the morning meetings through posts on social media such as the Missourian’s Facebook page. So if you don’t want to attend, you can still get updates.

I stop at a coffee shop three or four mornings a week. It’s often the best part of my day. It’s also what I consider to be part of my job.

From my perch at a rear table, I can hear two guys debating the merits of gun control legislation. Incredibly, they seem to be ambivalent; they see merits on several sides of the issue. Across the way is a group that might be a civic association meeting or could just be people from the same neighborhood. Earlier someone told me of the constantly heavy dockets at court. Someone else complained about a local politician who gave a “no comment” to a Missourian reporter. (He’s a public official, she said. He has to talk to the public.)

There’s nothing in particular to make me want to yell, 'Hey, we ought to do a story.' The voices are more like pieces of string. One might connect to another piece somewhere down the line.

These are people I wouldn’t hear from if I went straight into the office. They, and many others, make up the fabric that is Columbia, if only I remember to pause long enough to listen.

Where would you like the Missourian editors to hold community office hours? Joy Mayer is taking suggestions at 882-8182 or mayerj@missouri.edu.