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The End Of Gapers Block Is A Big Loss For Chicago

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 7, 2016 9:00PM


Gapers Block began shuttering its site on Jan. 1, and Wednesday was the last day Editor-in-Chief Andrew Huff was allowing writers and editors to add any new content before freezing it in digital amber.

Launching in 2003, Gapers Block was one of the first blogs to cover Chicago, and Chicagoist followed soon afterin 2004. Early on the sites were competitors, eyeing each other a little warily, but that soon changed into a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. We both tackled the city from a local's angle, and endeavored to deliver content to readers that was the kind of stuff we'd actually want to read, with a distinctive voice over a broad range of topics.

While Huff launched Gapers Block with Naz Hamid, the site has long been a one man affair, and with mounting responsibilities in other segments of his life, Huff finally realized something had to give, and that something was Gapers Block.

Gapers Block's new, permanent for now, banner.

The problem here is that Gapers Block was one of the last websites in the city that actually had the freedom to cover niche topics, obscure cultural interests, and lively political discussions. Their staff was all volunteer, so they were held back only by the depth of their own curiosity. Unfortunately that sort of approach is proving less and less sustainable. And with Huff as the only man at the helm, steering the train while also shoveling the coal to fuel it while also being the one to have to fix any technical issue or breakdown as well as ... well, you get the idea. You can't do all that and keep up with a scalable site while also hunting down advertising dollars to pay even the simplest maintenance bills.

The current media climate also means that a website like Gapers Block, and even Chicagoist, wouldn't necessarily survive if it was launched today. Both of us came into being in a different media climate, and we both benefited from being some of the first through the gate into the wide open world that was digital publishing in the early aughts. And, as Huff mentioned in an interview with WGN's Justin Kaufmann a few weeks ago, Chicagoist has the advantage of having the support of New York City's Gothamist—we were the second site launched in what would become a network of likeminded websites.

The first time Gapers Block and Chicagoist met: Gapers Block on the left (founders Naz Hamdid in black and Andrew Huff in purple) and Chicagoist on the right (the author in orange and original Chicagoist editor Rachelle Bowden in black). Photo via Mike Vouchey.

Media in Chicago is quickly shrinking and is dominated by the same handful of news outlets covering the same stories, (and admittedly, some readers and advertisers are responding positively to that), and distinctive voices like Gapers Block's are being snuffed out. Gapers Block long refused to align with that approach, and I think that, even more that Huff's weariness at being the lone person at the helm, contributed to the site's demise.

But all is not lost—many of the Gapers Block arts and culture editors have launched their own site, Third Coast Review, so there's hope that some of that deeper coverage Gapers Block had the freedom to do will continue. And of course, Chicagoist is still here, and we'll continue to do our best to deliver stories about every facet of our city that interests us and, we hope, you.

There may never be another Gapers Block, but we can hope that the things that made it special will continue to live on. If you'd like to celebrate what the site offered Chicago over the last decade, they're throwing one last party, one final Gapers Block get-together, at Best Intention (3281 W. Armitage Ave.) this Saturday, beginning at 7 p.m.