Focus group 

We decided the best way to gauge trends and assumptions about news users, our region’s information needs, and news-business successes and challenges was to work with on an audience we feel is particularly relevant but not particularly well-represented in the larger discussion about where local news is headed.

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How did we 
get here?

Many observers of today’s news business twists and turns start their historical overviews of the development of new online news publications in the late 15th century. That’s when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, ushering in an era of print innovation that prefigured the changes wrought on our society by the advent of social media. Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in a widely published opinion piece, advanced succinctly the comparison between the rise of social media and the advent of print:

Before Gutenberg, the monks copied illustrated manuscripts and were the keepers of information. Long after Gutenberg, during the Renaissance, society more or less figured out how to handle information. Today we are again living in those uncertain in-between years, when Gutenberg’s technology broke the old rules and allowed something new called literacy.1

The economic trauma our major news outlets are experiencing—such as the bankruptcy of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times—masks some of the real trends affecting local news. These trends suggest online news publications are likely to supplement, not replace these news outlets. However, a lack of local news is a real concern online news publications may help alleviate. Read the rest of this entry »

Methodology Notes: How we built and ranked our list of online news publications.

Visit “Six criteria for new news” to view data rankings

Our survey seeks to highlight some of the emerging local online news publications. That means that we have avoided most established metropolitan news organizations’ online publications. In no way does this mean that they are not of major importance to local news coverage (or that they are not leaders in innovation in their own right).

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Our Information needs: 
Vetted, shared, 
selected news

The shift from traditional to online news 
publications provides a glimpse into individuals’ views on what they love and hate about the 
news and, more broadly, their perspectives on 
their information needs.

We focused on how changes in the news business affect communities, arts and culture, and other aspects of public life. We discussed the topic with leaders of area nonprofit organizations that offer often-untapped expertise on this topic: leaders of nonprofit organizations working on the broadest possible range of issues, of all budget sizes and types, from emerging organizations to agencies whose founding dates to the 19th century.

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Six criteria for new news

Source 1 Point 2 Point 3 Point 4 Point 5 Point
Self reported

subscribers via

RSS (and e-mail)


(no email subscribers)

1 –30

(1,000 emails)


(2,000 emails)


(3,000 emails)


(larger email lists)

Self-reported visitors monthly Less than 1,000 1001–5000 5001–20,000 20,001–50,000 50,000+
Self-reported time on site Less than 2 minutes 2–5


5–10 minutes 10–20 minutes 20+ minutes
Google page rank 1 2 3 4-5 6+
Alexa traffic rank (Not used) None Millions Hundreds of thousands Tens of thousands or less

Community Media Workshop score: Subjective score based on factors such as local news coverage, community-oriented, original or unique; frequent updates; transparency; strong design; use of social media tools.

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What about the 
mainstream media?

Our purpose was not to examine the largest online news publications in the Chicago area. In fact, we biased our investigation toward small and innovative online news sites. Had we included local print and broadcast home pages, these would likely have occupied many of the top 25 to top 30 slots in our rankings. For reference, here are 15 of those sites with their Alexa traffic rank, where available:


Alexa rank

Chicago Tribune


Chicago Sun-Times


Chicago Breaking News Center


Daily Herald
















Chicago Tonight,4



NA (subdomain of


NA (subdomain of


NA (subdomain of

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Who’s doing what online?

We found that change was the only constant as we compiled this list of the most innovative online news publications in the Chicago region. Even as we were tallying survey responses and creating the final list, new ventures were launching. Lake Effect News, with the aim to cover communities once dominated by Lerner Newspapers, debuted in May. So did the Mindful Metropolis, which rose from the dead pages of alternative monthly Conscious Choice. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune was readying its ChicagoNow blog network for release in late May, with the aim to encompass 80 blogs by the end of the year.

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Mailing Address:
Community Media Workshop
at Columbia College Chicago
600 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605

Walk-in Address:
218 S. Wabash, 7th Floor
Chicago, IL 60605

Tel: 312-369-6400
Fax: 312-369-6404

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