Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Free Press back downtown

Set to open Canada's first news café

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The Winnipeg Free Press is going back downtown for a cup of coffee.

The 138-year-old newspaper has signed a deal with a local restaurateur to operate Canada's first "news café" in order to connect better with readers.

The Winnipeg Free Press News Café, which will be located in the Exchange District, is designed to be a community hub where customers can not only grab a bite or have a drink, but will be encouraged to interact and engage with journalists working on site.

John White, the paper's online editor and the driving force behind the café concept, said it will represent the first time the Free Press has had a downtown presence since it moved from Carlton Street to Mountain Avenue in August, 1991.

"It's important for us to get back into the community. Most newspapers, in order to accommodate their presses, had to build new buildings in the middle of industrial parks and we were no exception. We kind of lost touch with people. Being downtown, it will be so much easier to meet people and host events," White said.

White said the News Café will also be used as a studio for live hits on the paper's website. Other possibilities include hosting town hall meetings during election campaigns and interviews with performers on the eve of a show.

The paper will also host a media lab at the café where its editors and reporters will teach people the basics of journalism, how they cover various events and how to set up a blog.

The Free Press took possession of the space, situated at the northeast corner of Arthur Street and McDermot Avenue, on Thursday. Painters have already descended on the site, formerly home to the Jejomar Bakeshop, and the goal is a spring opening.

There is also some historical significance to the café's location. A century ago, the area was known as "newspaper row" and was home to the Manitoba Free Press, the Winnipeg Evening Tribune and the Winnipeg Telegram.

Bob Cox, publisher of the Free Press, said being a stone's throw from Portage Avenue and Main Street was a key consideration, too.

"A ton of people work in the area. It's very important for our journalists to be in contact with the community, to hear what people are saying, doing and thinking. That can be hard to do from the newsroom by telephone," he said.

Cox said there's no question newspapers should stick to their knitting and focus on the news, which is why it has partnered with Dom Amatuzio, a veteran of the local restaurant scene, to run the News Café. (It will also have an 85-seat patio on the Arthur Street side from spring to fall.)

"We do journalism well, we don't run restaurants particularly well. Dom knows how to operate a restaurant," he said.

"Newspapers have to do a lot of things to reach our audience. The News Café is one of them. We used to just have to do one thing, publish a newspaper."

White said the paper will invite performers from the Winnipeg Fringe Festival to perform their shows live on the web, too.

"We'll try to make it Fringe Central," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2011 A2

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