Nov. 4, 2014 was easily the most fun and most productive I’ve ever felt on Election Night, and there are two clear reasons for that:
1. I’m working at Billy Penn, a very lean news startup. There’s no room to be unprepared, and all-hands-on-deck basically means looking across a table to communicate with all my colleagues. Having a plan and sticking to it was pretty easy.
2. We hosted a shared newsroom that night. And though it ended up being a historically short midterm gubernatorial election, we had a great time.
I’d like to take credit for the concept, but I was inspired by NJ News Commons, which had its own shared newsroom that night. We wanted to try something different for Billy Penn’s first election night, and this felt like the right approach.
We invited journalists from across Philadelphia to share a newsroom with us. Rather than have a few people working in their own separate newsroom — or couches, in the case of freelancers — those of us tweeting and filing web stories that night worked in the same space.
There are some things we’ll tweak for next time (there will definitely be a next time), but we achieved our overall goal: fun, collaborative coverage of a common interest. Our space at Temple University’s Center for Public Interest Journalism was a little too small to accommodate everyone, so we shacked up with the University City Science Center. They opened their doors to us and balanced our pizza offerings with a tub full of beer.
Election Night usually brings tension to newsrooms. Everyone wants to be first to report results, or publish the story about an issue at the polls. But Billy Penn’s mission is about not competing, and not playing that game. Instead, we want to foster an environment where reporters and publications can bring their own perspectives to big issues. I consider the shared newsroom a major step in the right direction.