NY Times describes a small Conn. newspaper’s embrace of digital journalism and audience engagement:

The Register Citizen has six times the readership online that it has in print, and its new building is designed to mirror the open, collaborative culture of the Web. The business plan is based on making The Register Citizen’s Web site a magnet for all things local and thus an attractive place for advertisers, sponsors and others who can replace declining newspaper subscribers and advertisers.

Mr. Paton said that eventually all the other company properties would be redesigned in the same way, as spaces that tear down the walls between journalists and the communities they serve.

Speaking of the paper’s 34-year-old publisher, Matt DeRienzo, he said: “Matt’s taking his audience and making it a colleague. A building with open doors, with no walls, is the brick-and-mortar metaphor for how the Web works.”

So the idea of the cafe, public lounge and free Wi-Fi isn’t to make money on coffee. It’s to let the public see The Register Citizen as its space. The same thought underlies the public meetings and open newsroom, the opening of the company’s archives, the public spaces for bloggers and the meeting room that will host courses on blogging and journalism, so residents can write and link to the site. The company put together an advisory board of the most enthusiastically pro-digital industry thinkers and actually listened to them. All the printing and traditional nonnews operations like circulation are being outsourced.

Whether this works is anyone’s guess. At the beginning of the year, The Register Citizen’s digital sales made up 4 percent of advertising revenues. Now they are 17 percent. Mr. Paton says the Journal Register Company’s digital ad growth is twice as large as the industry’s, and the company’s digital revenue has grown from negligible to 11 percent of ad revenue in less than a year.

Yes! Engagement is the answer. It eliminates skepticism, increases credibility and creates content for free.

UDPATE: OK, I should probably say “mitigates” rather than “eliminates.”