How will we grow ChicagoNow in 2010?

In the weeks ahead, this blog is going to see some changes. The staff has been talking a lot about change lately.

Since
launching in August, ChicagoNow has grown into a robust, lively
community of Chicagoans. The site is close to 200 blogs strong, with
thousands of users returning every day. It's exciting to think how far
we've come in such a short time.

Yet the challenge of such
rapid growth is adapting to it. We're asking ourselves many questions.
How can users find blogs better? How can bloggers teach each other
their best practices? What does a good neighborhood blog look like?
What else should a user's profile page include?

To get fresh perspective on ChicagoNow, I recently traveled to New York City and met with several media innovators.

At the New York Times, editor Mary Ann Giordano discussed her work on The Local.
The Local is a hyperlocal blog project that the Times launched in early
2009. It covers a handful of neighborhoods in Brookyln and suburbs in
New Jersey.

Until recently, Giordano and two full-time reporters
oversaw The Local and worked with an impressive network of citizen journalists. Most intriguing is the Virtual Assignment Desk, where residents can sign up to cover a local event or suggest a story that needs to be covered.

This month, The Local is undergoing major changes. The two full-time reporters have moved onto other projects and now graduate student journalists at CUNY will oversee The Local. Leading them is Prof. Jeff Jarvis, the author of What Would Google Do and a veteran journalist.

Jeff
and I had less than an hour together, but we managed to hit each other
with several ideas about hyperlocal blogging. He had many good things
to say about ChicagoNow--specifically the fact that we've created
online communities where bloggers and users are free to talk to each
other. It was surreal to receive compliments from Jeff. His book and
his blog, BuzzMachine, have inspired how we've built the ChicagoNow network.

Equally surreal was my conversation with Jay Rosen. Jay is a media scholar at NYU who founded NewAssignment.Net, an experiment in journalism and crowd sourcing. ChicagoNow's Blogger Guidelines were inspired by Jay's blog post, "If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't.
So Let's Get a Clue."

He
was most interested in our work with local journalism students,
specifically the class I'm teaching this quarter at DePaul University
and the class Suzanne McBride will teach this spring at Columbia
College
. Jay's suggestion: create local resource centers at the
journalism schools for citizen journalists. It's a great idea.

Finally, I met with Amanda Michel, editor of Distributed Reporting at ProPublica. ProPublica
is an independent, non-profit newsroom focused on investigative
journalism. Amanda oversees their crowd sourcing, which means she works
collaboratively online with large numbers of citizen journalists.

Before coming to ProPublica, Amanda led Huffington Post's Off the Bus, which became famous after breaking the story about Barack Obama's comments at a closed-door fundraiser in San Francisco.
While we don't have plans to launch crowd sourcing projects at
ChicagoNow, I liked learning how Amanda organizes online communities
around specific topics.

Such conversations led to many ideas and
by the time I returned to Chicago, I'd filled my notebook with
sketches. Again and again, I wondered--what if we did this? Could we do
that? Why not? What's stopping us?

I'm not the only one with ideas. Everyone on the ChicagoNow staff and
many of our bloggers have great ideas for new features to build, new
blogs to add, new ways to design the site. We are all passionate about
the community we've created on ChicagoNow. We want it to continue
growing and evolving in the right directions.

I am confident that we are figuring it out. Our friends in New York are certainly cheering us on.

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