ChicagoNow Labs is a platform for area student journalists to learn about, discuss and experiment with online community management.

The journalism industry is radically changing and student journalists can no longer count on landing positions as reporters right out of school. A position they might take instead is that of the community manager of a news website.

ChicagoNow is overseen by a team of community managers. Their job is to grow a local and authentic online community on ChicagoNow. The managers do that in a variety of ways and wear many hats themselves including writer, curator, designer, tech geek, marketer, social media strategist and customer service representative.

ChicagoNow's community managers never edit the bloggers' or users' work. Instead, they help them cover the city and connect to other Chicagoans who share their interests.

On ChicagoNow Labs, student journalists will learn how to become community managers by growing and managing neighborhood blogs. In time, the students will hand over those neighborhood blogs to the residents to manage.

To start, ChicagoNow Labs will be used by a journalism class at DePaul University. The class is called "Managing Digital Communities" and runs January through March 2010. It is taught by ChicagoNow Editorial Director Tracy Schmidt.

During these 10 weeks, the DePaul students will share via ChicagoNow Labs what they're learning about online community management and working on in the neighborhoods. The class of 24 undergraduate and graduate students is divided into two groups. One group will launch Gold Coast Now, the other Old Town Now.

Each week, Tracy will post the class readings on the blog, to which students will post their own responses. The students will also post weekly updates about their progress in the neighborhoods.

The ChicagoNow community is encouraged to comment on the students' posts. Indeed, the best way to learn online is through collaboration. Who better to collaborate with than ChicagoNow's best bloggers and users?

The hope for ChicagoNow Labs is that it will become an incubator for new ideas for Chicagonow and a platform for student journalists across Chicago. If you would like to learn more about ChicagoNow Labs or find out how your journalism program can get involved, please email Tracy at

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