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Chicago Online News: The Best of What’s Left

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

Last week’s sudden shut-down of Chitown Daily News means one fewer online source for independent community news about the Windy City. If you’re hoping to find a local online news site, here’s a look at the best of what’s left.

As reported Friday, Chitown Daily News, Chicago’s primary community journalism site originally supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, laid off its paid staff when editor Geoff Dougherty was unable to find a sustainable funding stream. Dougherty says he’s working on a for-profit news model with the backing of angel funders that will debut in eight weeks.

Best wishes to Geoff and his team on their new effort, but Que Sera Sera for the rest of us, as the success of that particular future remains to be seen. For the moment, however, beyond online reprints of the dwindling local coverage of Chicago’s major dailies (not to mention the ongoing Sun-Times sudden-death watch), no citywide citizen journalism site remains.

What’s left, instead, is a large group of Chicago-based niche news and topic blogs and a far smaller group of popular aggregation sites linking back to the most interesting and/or relevant posts on the local blogosphere.

The stars of the show, longtime community blog Gapers Block (via its Merge meta-news feed), Chicagoist, the Beachwood Reporter, and the Windy Citizen, have built their reputations largely on highlighting relevant and/or quirky local news headlines for busy Chicagoans (who often read them on the sly throughout their workday.)

The first three rely on staff scraping of RSS feeds from various sites and reader tips to come up with headlines, as well as offering original reporting and opinion. Windy Citizen, modeled after the popular Digg service, asks the public to rate stories submitted by site members, with the most popular stories ending up featured “above the fold” at the top of the page. Another important service of note, the recently rescued Everyblock, allows locals to find automatically aggregated news, information, and municipal data for any address.

Though aggregation is not a guaranteed or sustainable way to disseminate local news (all hail for purchasing the cash-starved Everyblock before the site ended up on blocks), the current state of affairs is not necessarily a bad thing. Crowd-sourcing news items that bubble up from local sites across Chicago’s blogosphere (as occurs to one extent or another on Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Beachwood) helps ensure that those items have been vetted for relevancy. Asking readers to rate those news items (Windy Citizen) provides further opportunity to refine relevancy. Hyper-local aggregation (Everyblock) allows readers to focus on stories of community interest at the most basic level.

In addition, local blog networks like ChicagoNow–the one you’re reading–and Huffington Post Chicago give readers access to the reporting and opinions of a wide variety of community bloggers, brought together on a central platform that makes it easier to find diverse news items.

So it isn’t as if Chicagoans seeking local stories on the Internet are going without. I’m sure we’ll be well tided over until the next citywide online journalism site shows up. Here’s hoping one does–the world turns on neither news nor opinion alone. Both are necessary for an adequate picture of (insert favorite musical stinger here) the way things are.

It isn’t as if community journalism has fallen silent entirely. Neighborhood-level sites that train and deploy both paid and volunteer community journalists currently exist in a handful of Chicago neighborhoods. Take, for example, Community Beat and Pilsen Portal. In fact, if I were you, I’d take them now. Like Chitown Daily News and Everyblock, they’re foundation-funded, too.

So you know, tick tock

Categories: Chicago Blog News News Media Nonprofit 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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