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Bloggers Respond to Chicago Media Future Conference

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

On Saturday, the Windy City’s media community convened for the second time in less than a week to discuss its collective chance for survival, this time at the Chicago Media Future Conference. Whether the effort achieved its aim has been the subject of much blogosphere debate since the last attendee staggered away from the post-conference happy hour at Wabash Tap.

Organized by Mike Fourcher, founder of Purely Political Consulting, Barbara Iverson, Columbia College journalism professor and publisher of, and Scott Smith, Senior Editor at, in the immediate wake of Community Media Workshop’s Making Media Connections 2009, Saturday’s conference stood the chance of launching a substantive debate about future sustainability for the increasingly web-centric local- and niche-news community. Whether that actually came to pass is unclear.

To help you decide for yourself, the conference website offers an audio transcript and a live-blog archive to give you a sense of Saturday’s discussion, and lively twitter debates from the day are available at hashtag #cmfc and (the somewhat turned-around) #cfmc.

I found the conference to be a hit-and-miss affair. While the auditorium at Columbia College was full of the leading news writers and commentators of tomorrow’s Chicago, useful forward-looking suggestions for discussion like those detailed here by Windy Citizen editor Brad Flora didn’t get quite the play they deserved.

In response, I called for a Blogger’s Roundtable–for which planning has already begun–on Chicago Carless and Huffington Post Chicago, as a way for this town’s online editors and bloggers to examine news and bottom-line sustainability for our own websites and develop a community-wide voice on the issue–without the presence of major funders (as at Making Media Connections) or insufferable national website editors (the next person to invite Newser‘s Patrick Spain to the party deserves a one-way bus ticket to New York.)

Here’s how other local scribes are hindsighting Saturday’s Chicago Media Future Conference (as collected by the conference organizers here):

Chicago Reader | Chicagoland (Whet Moser)
“I wasn’t born yesterday, and I’m as well aware of anyone as to what drives traffic, so I’m not going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write about. But I will tell you this: if you go into it thinking well, I want to write about pressing social issues but we must do snarky blurbs about starlets for the unwashed masses, your writing is going to stink of tortured condescension. You can write well about celebrities; read some Gay Talese.”

Chitown Daily News (“Lou Grant”)
“At one point, in the second session, the live Twitter feed (#CMFC) was scrolling on a screen above the presenters. They were unable to read it, while the audience argued what they were saying behind them. That’s a pretty intimidating thing to have happen to the presenters. They handled it well and I personally withheld my snark. It was Mike Doyle who finally slowed it down when he called another Twitter writer a troll on the live Twitter feed.” (And I did, read near the bottom here.)

The Windy Citizen (comment thread)
“As for the WC, a year ago when we were focusing on doing pretty much what Chicago Now is trying to do, I was looking for people to write for free. Absolutely. I figured if the HuffPo can do it, why not my startup? But now we’re doing something different, we’re an open service like Digg or Facebook or Twitter. If the people posting links to the Citizen are ‘working for free,’ then the millions of Twitter users are all working for Twitter for free.” –Brad Flora
“All criticism aside, the conference was a huge leap forward from other events I’ve attended on the same topic, and I’m looking forward to more. How’s this for an endorsement: I may collaborate with them in the coming months on an event. It’ll likely come via Journalism Innovation Chicago (JIC), an informal group I co-founded that explores (and creates) new technologies and business models for news.”

Seeding Civic Media (Steve Sewall)
“So how will we, as unemployed or underemployed journalists, make money? Yesterday’s conference was not reassuring on this point. One participant, a recently downsized small town newspaper reporter, said that in order to make money, he’d have to wait on tables and start up his own blog.”

The Negotiation Limerick File (Matt Wood)
“Trust me, I’m the first person to roll my eyes whenever I hear someone talk about how social media will change the world, blogs are the death of newspapers, etc. Why just yesterday at the Chicago Media Future Conference, Patrick Spain of Newser declared–without a hint of irony–that the New York Times would be dead in 18 months (and met with audible groans from the crowd).”

First Draft (“Athenae”)
“What I am saying is that eventually, when you continue to ask that something happen and it doesn’t, you either change your strategy or you shut the hell up. Who pays the rent while you figure your shit out? I don’t know. And nobody should be asking anyone else to answer that question for them. Except maybe Patrick Spain. The New York Times’ death date is 6/13/10. Somebody should send them a memo, maybe warn them what’s coming.”

ChicagoItaliano–here and here (Nicola Orichuia)
“In my opinion, news-websites still today are trying to figure out how to create a single, compact and user-friendly “package” that will truly substitute the newspaper. That’s why hyper-local news websites can be successful: They are very specific ‘packages’. How to get all these ‘packages’ into one big ‘container’ so that people don’t have to waste their days on their computers, now that’s something we should start talking about.”

Driftglass (pseudonymed group blog)
“In the middle of what sure looks like a full-blown collapse into chaos, I was reassured by Rich Gordon’s (Medill) intermittent “Media in America” history lessons during the “Chicago Media Future Conference” on Saturday.”

Chicago Tech News (Todd Allen)
“Particularly in the Q&A session, people were spending as much time making statements as they were asking questions. Common themes included: ‘The Tribune and Sun-Times have abandoned real news’; ‘If we don’t have the Tribune and Sun-Times we won’t have public interest investigations’; ‘We hate corporations owning newspapers’; How dare some of you people write things for free’. It was awful. I almost walked out. At the intermission, I was told it was actually an upbeat discussion for a modern journalism conference. Ah, sweet pathos.” –Added 6/18/09

Finally, for a terrific example of how some traditional journalists sneer at local blogging communities, see this less-than-helpful post from freelance-journalist David Murray’s Writing Boots blog.

And if that last link isn’t a call to action for Chicago’s online scribes to speak with a community-wide voice, I don’t know what is.

Categories: Chicago Blog News

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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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