Were we the first to put journalists in coffeeshops?

Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View sets up shop at the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea in Daleville, Virginia.

Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View sets up shop at the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea in Daleville, Virginia.

Over the years, I’ve seen chatter in the industry from time to time about the idea of stationing journalists in coffee shops.

David Cohn, aka “digidave,” wrote about this concept in this 2009 blog post which envisions a newspaper that operates a coffee shop. The idea is to take journalists out from behind their downtown fortress and put them out among the people.

The Huffingon Post also reported in 2009 about a small Czech newspaper that was operating out of a coffee shop.

The Asbury Park Press got some buzz from American Journalism Review in 2010 when its Freehold hyperlocal site stationed its community reporter in a coffee shop.

I’m surprised, though, that no one has written about The Roanoke Times — whose journalists-in-coffee shops business model predates all those above.

In 2008, we closed a money-losing community news tab and in its place created three new community news publications — each with a strong web presence. Each was in outlying growth area — The Botetourt View in Botetourt County, So Salem in Salem, SWoCo in Southwest Roanoke County. And a key part of the business model was that the the community journalists for each of them would not be working out of the main newspaper building in downtown Roanoke, but would be out in the community.

Every day.

How “out in the community”?

Well, from day one, we have advertised that the community journalists hold office hours — in a coffee shop. Each Wednesday morning, the community journalist in each publication sets up shop in the Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea location in their respective zones. Sometimes people come to see them to offer stories, sometimes they don’t. But when they don’t, well, that’s where the journalists work. We don’t need a bricks-and-mortar building, just a laptop and wi-fi.

We’ve found the idea to be very successful, especially in Botetourt County. On some Wednesdays, community journalist Cathy Benson of The Botetourt View has a line of people waiting to see her at her coffeeshop bureau.

In fact, she’s found the concept so useful that she now holds regular office hours at other public locations on other days around the county, making her a true mobile journalist.

I remain surprised other papers haven’t embraced this concept, because it does two things at once — it puts journalists in closer contact with their community and . . . it saves money. Who needs bricks-and-mortar anymore?