Top 9 Of '09 - No. 6: Should We Talk About The Media?

By Marcus Gilmer in Miscellaneous on Dec 29, 2009 8:20PM

This week, we're counting down the top 9 stories of 2009 according to the Chicagoist staff.

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Photo by TheeErin

The ongoing evolution of journalism, as it shifts from print to a bigger online presence, was not new for 2009. But plenty happened - including a lot of talking - that kept the story going. While the Tribune Company had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of 2008, they were joined in 2009 by their rival paper, the Sun-Times, listed by Time Magazine as one of America's 10 most endangered newspapers, as the Sun-Times Media Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late March. Eventually the STMG would be sold to a group led by James Tyree and the new ownership is already floating ideas of a new pay model for some online content.

The Big Two weren't alone in their transitions, financial and otherwise. The popular site Every Block was bought by MSNBC. The Chicago Reader's parent company, Creative Loafing, saw its own bankruptcy proceedings resolved and found themselves under new ownership. The Chicago News Cooperative, a new collective of journalism veterans (mostly with Tribune backgrounds) is working towards becoming a new force on the local journalism scene but is seeing its early work in print via the New York Times' new local Chicago edition. And when local news/politics blog Chi-Town Daily News folded up shop this year, it was eventually reborn as Chicago Current, a blog that is also featuring a print element. The Tribune also made their online play with the launch of Chicago Now, a blog network that trumpets a large number of blogs (over 160 so far), an aspect that also currently serves as its biggest drawback (too unwieldy and difficult to find worthwhile content). Even longtime local columnist Robert Feder returned to the scene in the form on an online column at Vocalo (and he came out swinging).

With all the moving and shaking - not to mention things like the emergence of Twitter and other events such as the Tribune shuttering its D.C. bureau - there was plenty to talk about. And talk we did. There were dozens of panels and conferences - too many to count - with a few standing out - the Chicago Journalism Town Hall, IFC's Media Matters panel, and the Chicago Media Future Conference - but none reaching any conclusions or consensus. Talk spilled over to radio and television but still no real resolution was even approached. If you fell into the group that feels blogs are destroying journalism, this year's success of blogs (even little 'ol us had the best traffic year ever in the site's history) drove you crazy while if you supported the move to online, you continued to express consternation about how the Luddites just didn't "get it."

So what's in store for journalism? That's the Million Dollar question that no one has answered yet. The sale of EveryBlock and the grants issued by the Chicago Community Trust to local blogs like Gapers Block and Beachwood Reporter show a willingness to at least invest some money and time into what online media can do. And a site like Windy Citizen - a Digg-esque site for online stories from around Chicago - show how much easier it is to share online stories. But even as the future - even the next year or two - remain unclear, what is clear is that the journalism/media sphere of Chicago has put itself forward as a model of sorts for what's going right and what's going wrong as journalism continues to shift and experience ongoing growing pains. While Chicago may not produce the ultimate solution, it has become a formidable breeding ground for new ideas and experimentation, and a place which promises to have a strong voice in the continued evolution of journalism.

Previously: No. 9 - Abbate Case Resolved; No. 8 - Rick Bayless Goes Supernova; No. 7 - Oprah, Oprah, Oprah