Last Word (for Now) on C-BOM Blog Sustainability Meetup

(Photo: Does this bloggers meetup make me look fat? Credit: Steve Dahlman.)

On the last Saturday in August, I and two dozen other bloggers from across Chicago got together for the C-BOM: Community Blogging & Online Media meetup at the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago. We arrived to discuss ways to make local blogging financially sustainable. We left with the possibility of a Chicago-based ad network for local blogs in the air (thanks to an unexpected offer from Gapers Block editor and publisher, Andrew Huff.) You can learn how the C-BOM meetup was planned and read a detailed summary of the day’s discussion in my C-BOM debriefing.

I convened the meetup with the support of of leading local bloggers in the wake of two early summer 2009 media conferences–Community Media Workshop’s Making Media Connections and the Chicago Media Future Conference–that gave journalists and the foundation community a platform to talk about the future of the blogosphere. In June, I went on WLUW-FM’s Outside the Loop Radio (show available via link) and used my online bylines to voice my concern that bloggers ought to be the ones talking about the future of our community in these posts on Chicago Carless, Chicagosphere, and Huffington Post Chicago.

The event was materially sponsored by the Chicago Tribune (think: room, flipcharts, and refreshments), and the detailed debriefing could not have happened without fabulous fellow blogger Esther J. Cepeda (of 600Words.com) diligently taking down a second set of notes. Thanks to both.

C-BOM couldn’t have happened at a better time, either. In the weeks before Chicago’s local bloggers sat down to talk about sustainability, the popular, locally based micro-news aggregator Everyblock was bought out by MSNBC.com. As I explained on Chicagosphere, the kismet of a national media savior showing up didn’t really balance out the total expiration of previous grant funding from the Knight Foundation. It’s great the foundation world wants to help further the cause of local news online, but walking away from innovative projects just because the expiration date is reached on a traditional grant funding agreement is not the best way to support sustainability.

It’s also not the best way for foundations to engender trust among bloggers. Also before C-BOM, Knight announced a partnership with the Chicago Community Trust to provide grants for innovative local online news ideas. No surprise, the new grant program places the onus of sustainability entirely on the recipients. Meaning: the foundation community wants to be seen as a kind of nonprofit venture capitalist savior of online news, but they have no idea how to make that happen on their own.

At the time, I got some major grief from fellow bloggers for suggesting online and, once more, on OTL Radio, that Knight and the Trust should or even could explore a different way of doing things that wouldn’t result in walking away from innovative projects at inopportune moments.

Vindication arrived swiftly, however. Shortly after C-BOM, the online-news darling of the foundation community, the Chitown Daily News, collapsed when no additional nonprofit or private funding could be found after its orginating grants–also from Knight–ran out. As I continued to caution local bloggers not to view foundation funding as a panacea–or even necessarily to trust the words or motives of well-meaning but status quo-stuck foundations, on September 11th Gapers Block noted (emphasis mine):

“(Chitown Daily News editor Geoff) Dougherty said that the organization has some angel funding lined up and hopes to have the new venture up and running in about a month. This is a bold change for Dougherty, who has long been a champion of the nonprofit journalism model. This reversal will have major repercussions for that movement.

That final sentence is comprised of, perhaps, the truest words spoken about Chicago online local media all year.

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