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At the Chicago Journalism Town Hall today

The panelists at this afternoon’s town hall panel on the future of local news in Chicago, organized by Ken Davis, were funny, charming, engaging. Sort of like at, uh, a wake.

Maybe I was overly influenced talking to some of the online news folks at the end, like Steve Rhodes of Beechwood Reporter. He and a few others were chagrined at how clueless the panel seemed generally, still, about how to deal with the world online.

For those just joining us: Ken Davis, former Chicago Public Radio guy, realized talking to his peers that, as he said, “People are freaked out” by the shift from traditional to online journalism. He set up a web site, booked the room at the hotel allegro, and voila. Mike Miner, a panelist, wrote about it twice (articles at Ken’s site) and Time Out Chicago advanced the event nicely.

Journalists and anyone who cares about local news are right to be freaked out. The rumors and more than rumors are swirling around the Sun-Times, it’s no secret that they were de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange because the value of the stock fell below the minimum needed to be on the Big Board. The Chicago Tribune is bankrupt. As Ken said to set the stage for the dialogue that went on at the hotel, “One by one online has been annihilating or completely rewriting the script for every industry.” (think, e.g., travel agents).

If you were not there, a quick recap. There was some bitterness: Huffington Post is theft (content without compensation). There was some hope: Andrew Huff says his fixed costs for Gapers Block are around $100 a month. Thom Clark of the Workshop and Geoff Daugherty of ChiTown Daily News said you could run a good local news operation for $2 to $4 million. some thought it was too high, some too low. There were plenty of laughs, some consideration of nonprofit and micropayment news models. Etc.

If you were there but want more and you can’t wait for the video from CANTV or the audio from Chicago Public Radio’s Chicago Amplified, … visit the Chicago Public Radio live blog from this afternoon’s event. There was a lively conversation going on during the event, too, via twitter. Speaking personally, the chance to “talk in the back of the room” via twitter with a bunch of (probably less obnoxious than and smarter than me) folks definitely helped keep me engaged. Dan Sinker, Anna Tarcov, Whet Moser, Lovette from CMW and a bunch of others covered the high and low points. You can view the entire twitter stream here (for everyone using the hashtag #cjth; DePaul grad students Craig Kanalley and Christiana Johns were using #newsnow; that is here). You can also read about it at the Gary Post Tribune blog.

At CMW we will be doing some additional thinking about this topic, as The Chicago Community Trust has asked us to issue a quick report analyzing the future of local news online which we will be working on over the next several months.

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12 Responses

  1. Nice recap of the event. Thanks for the shoutout there. I should add that many of my classmates at DePaul also hoped to go to the event, but were told there would be no room. Anyway, your review is pretty accurate. The bright spots are right on, and there are a few. I look forwarding to checking back at CMW for some more thoughts on this and other topics.

  2. Anna Tarkov says:

    It’s Anna Tarkov. Otherwise, great wrap-up and thanks for posting it on the Citizen :)

  3. Frank says:

    Nice recap, quick note though, its Dougherty, not Daugherty

  4. [...] Aqui, uma visão mais conservadora do evento.  Aqui, o debate em áudio. [...]

  5. [...] thoughtful comments have been posted  today by Kyoshi Martinez, the NP Communicator at CMW, Jesse Greenberg, Ryan Blitstein and a variety of others.  Windy Citizen has been doing a nice job [...]

  6. The elephant in the room, barely acknowledged, was the digital divide. What happens if newspapers die, as John Calloway predicted, and everything goes online?

    What happens to people who don’t have computers and don’t have Internet access? Not everyone is willing to trudge to the library and wait hours to use the computer for only a few minutes at a time. And not everyone is involved with a special program that provides even part-time Internet access.

    As for the suggestion to make news available via smart phone and Kindle — that’s great, if you HAVE a smart phone or Kindle. Again, there is a cost issue involved which will leave a lot of people out.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-Internet. I use the web every day for work and amusement. And I believe it is a resource which should be readily available. But I think a major aspect of addressing this issue is also figuring out HOW to make this possible. While we’re talking money, let’s talk about this issue as well.

    Also, re the suggestion that news should be disseminated on a “pay per view” basis — good luck with that. Pandora’s box is already open on that one. The idea that Internet content is free, or should be is so well ingrained that it will be difficult, if not impossible to dislodge.

    Sure, there’s the iTunes example, but if you don’t believe there is still MUCH free downloading of musing going on (not by me, but still), I have a bridge to sell you along with the land to build it on.

    Just my ten cents worth.

  7. Brad Flora says:

    Hi Audrey,

    Print’s never going away completely. As long as there’s a community that is best served in print, businesses will find a way to serve that need.

    And for communities where there’s no business case for serving them, that’s where non-profits and foundations will have to come in. If a community can’t pay to have a business provide it with news then it’s a social problem, not a business problem, and yesterday’s conversation was focused on the business problems.

    We’re going to see the media stratify over the next 10 years or so I think. The most “uppity” of the Tribune’s reporting, city hall stuff, investigative pieces will be sold as premium products at a high cost, similar to how the Economist treats its business intelligence unit.

    Meanwhile the cheap news will get shorter, bloggier and cheaper. We might go back to broadsheets that just have blurbs on the day’s top stories. And this stuff will all be free.

    Right now everything’s free and the stuff that could be premium is not being done at a level high enough for it to be packaged as premium content.

  8. Gordon says:

    update: Chicago Public Radio has posted the audio from Sunday’s event on Chicago Amplified; it’s in 2 parts, both here.

  9. Thanks for the reference!

    Your recap an accurate nutshell of the event.

    Audrey – Do the people who don’t have Internet access still read newspapers? I thought that was an interesting point until I wondered who read the physical paper the most — aging baby boomers who won’t be around forever — but I would like to know what percentage and segment of the population is paying for and reading physical newspapers because they don’t have access to the Internet.

    My graduate journalism class at DePaul University is blogging about the media industry and the town hall meeting:
    http://newsnow.ning.com/profiles/blog/list

  10. You definitely made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and found most people will go along with with your site.

  11. Looking forward to reading more. Great article. Really Cool.

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