Feb 22, 2009
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.