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Community Beat: A New Model for Neighborhood News?

This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

In answer to the question posed in the headline, not necessarily, but a great effort nonetheless. Community Beat is the group blog put together by the citywide community development teams from the MacArthur Foundation-financed Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) New Communities Program (NCP). (Did you get all that?)

Since 1998, NCP has rolled out resident-centric planning initiatives in 16 challenged neighborhoods on the Northwest, West, and South Sides of Chicago. Community Beat is a forum for LISC staffers to share news and updates about those NCP neighborhoods, and it works wonderfully in that regard. But, as its organizers claim, is it really a better model than plain old “citizen journalism”?

In the year since its inception, Community Beat has covered topics you might not find on other community news sites or local blogs, for example:

This week, I interviewed NCP “scribe coordinator” (and you thought I was the only blogger to use the “s” word) Patrick Barry via email. Barry told me posts are written by a paid team of contract writers, informed with best practices provided by Chicago’s leading grassroots media-training organization Community Media Workshop (CMW). A paid writing staff and professional insight from the likes of CMW definitely add to the depth and breadth of the issues covered on Community Beat.

One thing Barry told me gave me pause, though. He wrote, “We reject the citizen journalist concept as unsustainable and unprofessional, but think nonprofits including community organizations can play a major role in filling the gap left by the newspapers in terms of local coverage.”

I agree with the last part of that comment. Community organizations can, should, and of course in this instance do have a role to play in providing localized news coverage in the stead of the former primacy of printed news media.

But it’s a bit early in the game to call citizen journalism unsustainable. For one thing, that assumes that Community Beat’s philanthropy-financed model is sustainable, and that remains to be seen. It also remains to learn whether Chicago’s existing community news and blogging sites like Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, Chi-Town Daily News (admittedly foundation-funded, itself), Beachwood Reporter, and good old ChicagoNow–to name a few–will have a long and healthy life or founder on the shoals of economic or journalistic bankruptcy. With no hard answers yet, it’s a little early for hubris.

Moreover, the charge of unprofessionalism has been the heretofore favored rallying cry of traditional media, itself, when faced with the very concept of Internet-based news models–nonprofit or otherwise. Given how fast our collective news landscape continues to change, that’s a charge no media professional should make lightly, no matter how entrenched they perceive themselves of their platforms to be.

I’m willing to bet the truly sustainable community news model that finally emerges will be a mélange of the best parts of all of us. While we continue to try and figure out what tomorrow’s media landscape is going to look like, right now there some great work going on at Community Beat.

It’s worth your time to take a look.
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mmcbadge.jpgSpeaking of community news-gathering, I will be moderating the “Neighborhood News 2.0” panel at Community Media Workshop’s annual Making Media Connections conference next Thursday (June 11th) at 2:00 p.m. with panelists Daniel X. O’Neil of Everyblock.com, Geoff Dougherty of the Chi-Town Daily News, Silvana Tabares of Extra Bilingual News, and Dan Weissmann of Vocalo.org.

Both panel and conference should provide a lot to ponder regarding the future of journalism in the Windy City–citizen or otherwise. Follow the conference link, above, to register or learn more.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

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