November 5, 2014
Billy Penn's pop-up newsroom. This photo is courtesy of Billy Penn.

Billy Penn’s pop-up newsroom. This photo is courtesy of Billy Penn.

On Tuesday night, about 20 journalists in Philadelphia got together over beer and pizza to watch and report election results. They weren’t waiting together at election night parties or forced together outside the polls. It was a pop-up newsroom.

Fittingly, the get-together took place at an incubator at the University City Science Center, which donated the space and some beer (from Philly’s Victory Brewing Company, some Yuengling and a few Miller Lights.) Billy Penn, which organized the pop-up, paid for the pizza, about $200, said Chris Krewson, Billy Penn’s editor, in a phone interview.

The evening started around 7:30, pizza came at 7:45 and the Pennsylvania governor’s race was called by 8:02, Krewson said, “so the pizza was still warm.”

Billy Penn launched on Oct. 22. The idea for the pop-up came from Billy Penn’s Shannon McDonald, who got the idea from Montclair State University’s NJ News Commons, which also had an open newsroom Tuesday night. Billy Penn’s started about a week and a half ago and came together quickly — a benefit of being small and nimble. The pop-up brought together journalists from, AL DÍA News, TheDeclaration, Metro, Comcast and Law360 working alongside Billy Penn’s team to report the night’s results in an open coworking space with bouncy balls, chairs and white boards.

It wasn’t competitive, Krewson said, and no one was trying to steal ideas. Billy Penn had a plan to be responsive around the news, with some things ready to go. The other journalists there worked on content for their sites.

“It’s always fun to be in a newsroom when absurd things happen on an election night, and they always do,” Krewson said, and it’s more fun to cover those things when you’re in a room with smart people. “The only difference is all these smart people didn’t work for the same place.”

And when things did surface on social media, those present pointed them out to each other.

“In that sense, I think it was a lot better for everybody. The goal of this was to make sure the whole is better than the sum of its parts.”

Since they’re mostly aggregating and aren’t worrying about covering the elections for the Web and a print product the next day, it was a pretty stress-free night, Krewson said. He can see having a weekly news meeting at a coffee shop, where anyone is welcome to listen in, offer story ideas, ask questions or offer feedback.

Since this was the first event like this that Billy Penn has put on, it was really just for journalists, though a few people did ask about stopping by.

“This was a working night that had elements of a party,” he said, and for their first shot at it, that’s probably smarter than a party that had elements of a working night.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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