Three lessons from Billy Penn’s pop-up election newsroom

Philly journalists gather to watch Election Night speeches at Innovation Center 3401, home to Billy Penn's shared newsroom.

Philly journalists gather to watch Election Night speeches at Innovation Center 3401, home to Billy Penn's shared newsroom.

What happens when you put a dozen journalists from a handful of different news organizations in the same room to cover an election?

I’ll admit I was kind of afraid to find out. Fortunately, Billy Penn‘s Election Night shared newsroom went off without a hitch, and Philly journalists who usually only see each other at press conferences and the occasional meetup worked together to cover Tuesday’s night historic — if uneventful — election results.

The idea came from NJ Newscommons, which is an effort by Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media to connect news organizations throughout New Jersey. There’s no consistent, focused effort in Philly to get its newsrooms working together, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all unite around common coverage.

So Tuesday night, our gracious hosts at the University City Science Center’s Innovation Center 3401 filled a bucket with ice and beer and opened their rather impressive workspace to a group of journalists who decided they’d rather work alongside peers than alone in their respective newsrooms or living rooms.

Here are some lessons we’ll apply to future shared newsrooms:

1. Buy more pizza!

Results were called quickly, and the pizza ran out just as fast, but reporters hung out until 11 p.m. watching speeches, sharing ideas and making jokes (seriously, how long was Corbett’s concession speech). In the process, we met some Science Center tenants and friends who wanted to check out behind-the-scenes Election Night coverage. We had some leftover Halloween candy to munch, but more pizza would have helped.

2. Results don’t matter.

We were slightly disappointed at 8:02 p.m. when pretty much everyone called the election in Tom Wolf’s favor. Party poopers! But we weren’t just there to report the results and leave; the whole point was to hang out together and share ideas. We did that for another three hours.

3. We gotta do more events like this.

As the Billy Penn community continues to grow, we to plan hold events like these that are as accessible and interesting to citizens as they are to journalists. But Tuesday night, reporters from The Declaration, Law 360, Al Dia, Philly in Focus, and Metro proved that working alongside one another to report and share the best coverage of a news story results in better information for the community.

Imagine a collaborative space for local journalists with an open house component for citizens who’d like some company while watching a mayoral debate or a budget address or a playoff game. The shared newsroom is definitely a the-more-the-merrier environment, so stay tuned for more pop-up work/social events like this.

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