Chicago...Now?

By Kate Gardiner in News on May 18, 2009 8:20PM

tribtower.jpg
The Trib Tower, up close, by Kate Gardiner/Chicagoist

We looked out the window Saturday morning and thought to ourselves, "Where, where ever shall we spend this glorious spring day?" The answer, naturally, was in a windowless, florescent-lit conference room in Trib Tower. Why? Because the Society for News Design was having a regional meetup to examine the state of our industry - and explore cool stuff going on in and around the Windy City's journalism scene. The best part: intros to a variety of new and growing news projects around the city. Oh, and that keg on the 22nd floor balcony...

One of the projects introduced to the Chicago journalism community at the conference was the Trib's newest blog project, a news aggregator called Chicago Now (check out their promotional video here, via the Reader) that's being billed as "Huffington Post meets Facebook, for Chicago." It's attracting a lot of bloggers, (they hope to have about 80 blogs hosted on the site) - from established voices to a variety of new writers seeking a piece of the Trib's reputed 100 million monthly page views. But the money factor - and the perks - seem fairly limited at this stage. Bloggers writing for the site are independent contractors, paid wholly from traffic to their individual articles, and they're policed (mildly) by community managers. There's no access to Trib content - no photos, no editors - and most importantly, no press credentials. The Chicago Now site is the online home of RedEye, the Trib's free, if content-lite youth-oriented newspaper.

If the paper's web traffic is anything like its street circulation after this online incarnation, there will be people online, rooting around for followups. Whether or not RedEye will become the next Printed Blog, and reverse-aggregate popular online content remains to be seen - but it seems like someone, somewhere, will make at least a dollar off of this concept. We just hope it's the bloggers.

If Chicago Now wasn't the end-all be-all solution to journalism we were hoping for, it did provide context for other journalism-related ideas - reminding everyone about the different style of hyper-localized journalism, for example, over at EveryBlock and a new(ish) kind of hyper-simplified advertising from Coudal Partners called The Deck.

Both of those ideas seemed to be working for their founders, though Adrian Holovaty, the EveryBlock creator admits his two-year programming grant is running out in six weeks. And it brought more eyes to Brad Flora's Windy Citizen, which in itself has been exploring new ways of incorporating ad sales and revenue into its hyper-local Digg-esque news model.

We didn't leave the conference thinking that anything has been solved - or that the journalism market is getting all that much better as it shifts into an online platform - but hey, we can talk about that later this week, as our own editor-in-chief addresses the Chicago journalism community.

That's right, we're convening. Again. This time, it's the Newberry Library, Thursday, at noon. Hosted by IFC, the theme is "Make Media Matter" and features panelists Gerould Kern (editor, Chicago Tribune); Donald Hayner (editor, Chicago Sun-Times); Carol Marin (WMAQ, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tonight); Jeff Kiernan (VP & news director, WBBM-TV); and of course, our beloved editor-in-chief, Marcus Gilmer.

According to the press release, Marcus and everyone else will be discussing the financial crisis and sustainable journalism in Chicago, specifically in light of the pending bankruptcies at both of the city's major dailies. The event is a part of the IFC Media Project (Sundays, 11 pm EST/PST) which is a "documentary series that draws back the curtain on news coverage and seeks to uncover the truth behind the news."

We're looking forward something along the lines of "The mainstream media would be fine if the aggregators didn't steal it." And we'll be covering it. Because.