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Local Blogs Among Chicago's Top Niche News Sites According to New Report

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

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Congratulations to local blogs Gapers Block, Chicagoist, CTA Tattler, District 299, Urbanophile, Chicago Carless, 600 Words, and Marathon Pundit, who feature among Chicago's top-20 community-based news sites according to a report released today by grassroots media-relations training organization Community Media Workshop and commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust.

The report, The New News: Journalism We Want and Need (PDF link), examines the state of online community news in Chicago, in the face of declining local coverage by the city's traditional daily newspapers.

Continuing to delve into themes originally explored at February's Chicago Journalism Town Hall, the report identifies 60 local websites dealing wholly or in part with the dissemination of Chicago-centric news and ranks them based on five individual criteria including number of RSS subscribers, number of monthly visitors, average visit length, and Google and Alexa page ranks, as well as a subjective criterion that assesses elements such as transparency, uniqueness, and use of social-media tools.

Today, the Workshop highlighted the top 20 of those sites that "in addition to providing entertaining and informative content were influential, innovative, and had thought through their relationship to their audience as seen by their efforts at transparency." These sites are:

1.    Chi-Town Daily News
2.    Windy City Media Group
3.    Gapers Block
4.    Progress Illinois
5.    Windy Citizen
6.    WBEZ Chicago Public Radio
7.    Chicago Parent
8.    Catalyst Chicago
9.    Chicagoist
10. Midwest Business
11. CTA Tattler (now on ChicagoNow)
12. The Beachwood Reporter
13. NewCity
14. Chicago Defender
15. District 299 (also now on ChicagoNow)
16. The Chicago Reporter
17. The Urbanophile
18. Chicago Carless
19. 600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda, and
20. Marathon Pundit

Regular readers will note #18 on that list. CHICAGO CARLESS (rendered in my preferred all-caps branding) is my personal blog, and I'm thrilled to find it included here--and as the only memoir blog to make the list, to boot. (Read my personal coverage about making the list on CARLESS.)

In order to focus exclusively on niche news providers, the Workshop excluded the main Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times websites from the rankings, although an online analysis of keywords performed by the authors suggests local news content to have declined to its lowest point since 1994 at both dailies.

But the real news is the strong presence of local bloggers in the top-20. As neighborhood coverage continues to dwindle in traditional media, hyperlocal news sites and niche interest blogs seem to be taking up some of the slack. Not all of it, and not in a comprehensive manner, but enough for modest, one-person websites and unpaid groups of bloggers with sharp, community-oriented focuses to develop strong followings and become opinion leaders in their areas of interest. They may or not be the journalists of tomorrow, but if anyone's looking for tomorrow's top columnists, bloggers like these are the ones to watch, folks.

In order to add context to the rankings, the Workshop held focus groups with community leaders and media professionals to learn their views regarding online local news. Given the grassroots nature of the report, I would have preferred the authors to have sought the views of rank-and-file Chicagoans. It comes as less of a surprise that this crowd had definite opinions about how community news-gathering should be done on the web--namely that local news should be vetted for accuracy, selected for importance, and set in a frame of community-wide interest.

The Workshop report also takes a look at potential models for the financial sustainability of online local news (controversial ground covered in this Chicagosphere post and comment thread from last week.) Among the ideas put forth: professional staffs paid with foundation monies and trained in journalism and new-media skills; and newly created Illinois L3C organizations funded with private monies but with socially based missions to attract grant monies.

As a first-of-its-kind effort, Workshop authors admit the website rankings are imperfect. Limitations of time, resources, and available data forced the exclusion of several local websites, and the subjective ranking criterion left a lot of room for debate. However, the report represents a good start at attempting to quantify an important element of our inexorably changing media landscape.
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mmcbadge.jpgThe report was released to coincide with the kick-off of Community Media Workshop's popular, annual best-practices conference, Making Media Connections. I will be moderating the "Neighborhood News 2.0" panel at the conference this Thursday (June 11th) at 2:00 p.m., with panelists including 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 (walk-in registrations accepted.)

Given the fact that I and half the panel are apparently now among Chicago's top community bloggers, I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about.

But wait, there's more. This Saturday (June 13th) also brings the Chicago Media Future Conference to town. Organized by Mike Fourcher, founder of Purely Political Consulting, Barbara Iverson, Columbia College journalism professor and publisher of ChicagoTalks.org, and Scott Smith, Senior Editor at Playboy.com, as a follow-up to February's Town Hall, Saturday's event will squarely address the question of monetizing online news.

With a topic like that, you just know a few people aren't coming back from the woodshed before the weekend's out...

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10 Comments

Tracy Samantha Schmidt said:

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Mike, glad to see Chicago Carless made the list! I'm looking forward to your panel tomorrow.

Mike Doyle said:

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Thank you, Tracy. Hopefully, I'll sleep between now and then!

Our Man In Chicago said:

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Mike, thanks for mentioning the Chicago Media Future Conference. Anyone who's interested in attending is encouraged to RSVP at chicagomediafuture.org to ensure we have a seat for you.

[Ed. Note: Duly RSVP'd.]

Tony said:

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I can't wrap my mind around Windy City Media Group attaining that high of a ranking.

Mike Doyle said:

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Tony, I can't speak for the Workshop, but I think that ranking came about because of Windy City Media Group's strong LGBTQ community presence and their transparency within the community. CMW gave a lot of weight to the aggregated subjective criterion that included social media, openness, audience relations, and the like. That's my best guess.

Personally, I'm surprised Chicago Pride didn't figure in the rankings. Their online coverage is a lot more engaging--even if I did almost end up in one of their nightlife photo spreads one tipsy Bear Pride weekend evening at Cellblock. But that's another story...

Clark Bender said:

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Congrats on making the list, Mike! Glad to have you with us here on ChicagoNow.

Mike Doyle said:

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Thanks, Bender! (Meant in a totally Futurama way...)

Clark Bender said:

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And appreciated as such. Time for me to go steal some beer!

Gordon Mayer said:

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Thanks for your post and review of the report. We were surprised to find Windy City so high up in the list, too, when we crunched our numbers.

You explained it just fine, BTW--and the method for how we did what we did is pretty clearly laid out in the report for all who wonder why and how we did it. Another site that surprised us--Chicago Defender Online. As someone who worked once upon a time at the Defender and was saddened when we had to stop calling it the "Daily Defender" it was a surprise to see their Web site rise to, I think, 14 in the rankings.

All in all, I think we found that there's a huge diversity of online news sources--wonderful--and a huge desire for the kind of authority that traditional news brings. by the by, why not nonprofit folks? We specifically did not want to interview the "general public" because I think you'd have to question afterwards how we'd find a suitably representative group of individuals for the whole region, no? anyway, that's a quibble, lots to quibble about. The big point is for everyone to recognize the immense change in how we get information and take a moment to think about what kind of news we want (and, maybe, that it does not have to just be journalists thinking that through).

Message from Montie said:

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I am very proud to find out that ChicagoDefender.com made it to this top 20 list. I found out by accident from reading someone's tweet. As the Web Editor since June of 2008 and with the redesign of the site, I really appreciate people coming by, leaving comments, visiting our site, and watching the numbers grow. So thanks to all the supporters who helped get us to #14.

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