ChicagoNow partners with Columbia College on hyperlocal site

We are excited to announce our new partnership with Columbia College to launch a hyperlocal community news site serving Austin, a neighborhood on Chicago’s far west side.

The web site, which will be hosted on ChicagoNow, will feature news about Austin that is gathered by its residents and Columbia’s journalism students. Columbia’s students will also test new distribution models, including text messaging and reverse-publishing online content into hyperlocal newsletters. More information is in the press release below.

This project is made possible by a Community News Matters grant awarded to Columbia College. It is one of 12 grants that were awarded today to community news projects in Chicago. Congratulations to all of our friends in Chicago who also received grants, including Chicanisima’s Teresa Puente and the the crew at Gapers Block, which runs On Ramp on ChicagoNow.

Press Release: Columbia College receives journalism grant from Chicago Community Trust

Columbia College Chicago has received a $45,000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust to develop a web site for and by the residents of the west side Chicago neighborhood of Austin. With the help of the Austin community and in collaboration with the Chicago Tribune, assistant professor Suzanne McBride plans to launch a web site in spring 2010.

The site – – will serve as a clearinghouse of news and information, featuring stories, photos, video and audio about the people, places, events and issues important to the Westside neighborhood.

“We’re honored to have been given the opportunity to partner with the
residents, business owners, civic leaders, educators and people of
faith in Austin,” said McBride,  co-founder and co-publisher of the
local news web site

The Austin project was one of 12 selected for $500,000 in awards; there
were 86 applications seeking to fund projects totaling $5.7 million in

Bill Adee, the Tribune’s digital media editor, said, “”We were thrilled
when Columbia approached us with this idea. It fit in perfectly with
our vision of ChicagoNow to provide a platform for voices that
sometimes are not heard.”

Tracy Schmidt, editorial director of ChicagoNow, which will feature once it launches, said, “The real experts about Austin
live in Austin. We look forward to working with Columbia College and
the people who know Austin best.”

Gerould Kern, editor of the Chicago Tribune, noting the unique
partnership that has formed between a non-profit college and one of the
nation’s largest for-profit media companies, said, “Working together,
the Chicago Tribune and Columbia College can build something unique
that can be a template for the future. These are three great names in
one of the nation’s greatest cities: Columbia College, Chicago
Community Trust and the Chicago Tribune.”

McBride and her co-founder, Dr. Barbara Iverson, an associate professor
of journalism, will edit and distribute the news and information
gathered by student and citizen journalists through mobile devices,
text messaging and newsletters to reach as many Austin residents as
possible and to build audience involvement.

Antonio Olivio, President of the Chicago Association of Hispanic
Journalists, and Assistant Professor of Journalism Teresa Puente, a
CAHJ Board member, received a $30,000 grant for that organization to
start a new web site to promote the work of Chicago-area Latino
journalists, to assign freelance reporters to fill gaps in coverage and
to train and mentor student and citizen journalists. Olivo covers
immigration issues for the Chicago Tribune and Puente, who once worked
for the Tribune, writes the Chicanísima blog for the Chicago Now
network and launched as the recipient of a J-Lab
women entrepreneurs grant.

Mindy Faber, academic manager in the Interactive Arts and Media
Department, coordinated efforts of the Chicago Youth Voices Network,
which received a $60,000 grant “to engage several hundred youth
journalists in 12 local youth media programs to explore and report on
how Chicago teens are faring in the economic recovery, using online
polls and social media reporting.” Among the youth organizations
participating in the network are Columbia Links, a journalism program
for urban teens founded by Assistant Professor of Journalism Curtis
Lawrence and Department Chair Nancy Day.

Community News Matters is a new and unique endeavor, according to the
Chicago Community Trust. It is part of the Knight Community Information
Challenge, a five-year, $24 million national effort “to help
place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and
technology to keep residents informed and engage.” The program was
announced last summer, and open to individuals, for-profits and
non-profits. The application deadline was Sept. 15. The grants will be
distributed in December. A second round of funding is anticipated in

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  • Here's something that excites a lot of us who grew up in Austin. Including old friends like Bob Newhart, Andrew Greeley and Kim Novak among a fistful of other local and national figures.

    Saying "the real experts live in Austin" is true. I'd also add that includes "those who ONCE lived in Austin." To really know this grand, 110 year old community, you might want to tap into memory banks that can still remember the blocks, buildings and backbone that went into this place.

    We were born in the Great Depression; helped build the schools, parishes, parks and legends that still exist there. Stuff that can only come from folks who still visit the homeowners they sold to, and the schools and stores they once belonged to.

    So let us know whenever you need some living-historians to travel those lives with you...

  • In reply to jackspatafora:

    We'd love to talk further with you about Austin.
    Suzanne McBride of Columbia College (

  • My question is why does Columbia College need $45,000 in overhead costs for a news blog that will be hosted on ChicagoNow? Gapers Block got a very similar grant and they have no overhead at all. I assume their grant will go directly to pay for a staff person. Assuming Columbia College uses students, where is this money headed to?

    Overall thought my questions about the Trust grant come down to: What will grantees do when the money runs out? Wasn't this grant supposed to be about sustainability? This is the basis for my analysis of the grant awards today on Chicagosphere. Find it here:

    Sustainability Optional in Chicago Community Trust Online News Grants?

  • In reply to MikeDoyle:

    We're interested in paying contributors for their work as well as a part-time editor/community liaison to help get as many people involved as possible. But you're right - we have to figure out a way for the site to pay for itself beyond the grant. Would be happy to talk further about your ideas on this! Suzanne McBride (

  • What does $45K worth of hyperlocal journalism look like? I'd like to echo pretty much everything Mr. Doyle said. I'm sure the 45K will go a long way, but when it's out, it's out--what's the plan when the trough runs empty?

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