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NEW NEWS 2012: Tribune, Catalyst, Uptown Update ranked as Chicago’s top online news sites

The Chicago Tribune, Catalyst Chicago, Uptown Update, Time Out Chicago and Chicagoist landed the coveted #1 spots as Chicago’s best online news sites in their respective categories, according to The NEW News 2012 report released by the Community Media Workshop last week. The report ranked 51 online news sites in five categories: Citywide News (#1-Chicago Tribune); Specialty News (Catalyst); Neighborhood News (Uptown Update); Arts, Culture and Entertainment (TimeOut); and Aggregators (Chicagoist).

Key findings among the top-ranked sites include:

  • The greatest diversity in news sites, business models and news presentation is occurring within hyper-local neighborhood news.
  • The increase of online news sites does not mean an increase in the diversity of citywide news coverage. Daily newspapers are still leading for depth of news coverage.
  • Even though social media is used by all top-ranking sites, audience engagement with online news sites is “infrequent, and where it exists, it is not of high quality.”

With the decline of traditional daily newspapers and the emergence of more online news sites and blogs, The NEW News 2012 finds that Chicago’s online news ecosystem continues to grow and change since the release of the first NEW News report in 2009. Since then, at least three prominent Chicago-only news sites have come and gone, but more neighborhood news sites have emerged rapidly attracting audiences.

View the complete list of ranked sites online at The online report also includes “What I Read” profiles and videos of some Chicago’s leading journalists and communications professionals, an article on the state of suburban news, and a sidebar on ethnic media in the city. Wondering how the top sites received their winning scores? You’ll also find the report’s methodology online.

If you’d like to find contact information for all of these online news sites and more, check out our Chicago media guide. The 2013 version, available in print or online, will be out soon!

Help us consider an important question: What is good online news?

The NEW News studies give us an opportunity to consider the ingredients that make up the news we want and need. What news, information and journalism helps people better participate in civic discourse and become better citizens and decision-makers? And how do the tools of the Web serve to change the way news is researched, reported and shared?

This is one of the key conversations we’ll have with our advisory board, but we wanted to start out with a series of questions.

How much news does a site need to provide to serve as a news source? In this area, we are indebted to Michele McLellan’s research. Her team determined a minimum amount of news content to be considered as part of her group of hyperlocal news sites. For her project, the site had to publish a minimum number of times (3) a week. We will want to consider if we want to follow the same standard, set a higher bar, or perhaps a lower one.

What is the news we need? In the 2009 report, we analyzed areas of pressing civic concern, such as housing and corruption, to see how coverage fared in the face of disruption in the local news ecosystem. Since 2009, the local news ecosystem just keeps evolving, and while we will not examine the volume of coverage of specific issues this time around, our sense is that there always can be more journalism that holds people in power accountable for their actions and tells the stories, positive and negative, about diverse communities in the City of Chicago. (We are pleased that the Local Reporting Initiative has helped more than 30 journalists tell stories that we’re certain might not otherwise have been told.) So, in looking at the quality of journalism we see on sites, we likely will favor sites that focus on pressing neighborhood and social issues in a balanced, rather than sensational, way. What are your thoughts on the news we need?

What qualifies as news, and is it different from journalism? Websites that post the police blotter, upcoming announcements of civic meetings and the like are sharing information, we believe. Some would consider such information as news. But is it journalism without the context or analysis that helps us understand key questions: is crime rising or falling? Is this flooding problem an annual occurrence or something exacerbated by recent weather and climate conditions? What makes this upcoming block party special?

What makes good reporting? A J-Lab study of Philadelphia sites coined a term we like tremendously. In looking at sites, the J-Lab team determined that some had “journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it.” We like this phrase, and we plan to expand on it. Community Media Workshop has a storied history of helping journalists and local organizations connect with a goal of fair and balanced reporting: reporting that represents not just two sides but all sides of an issue. At the same time, sometimes good reporting means not just talking to disparate voices but digging into the data in a way no one else has before. How will we represent good data-based reporting?

What makes an aggregator of news a good one? Increasingly, website users value sites that curate available information into a meaningful experience. Whether it’s a consistent editorial eye (such as The Daily Beast) or the wisdom of crowds (such as Reddit), we value a go-to starting point. Aggregation is alive and well in Chicago. What are the signs that it is effective, or that it isn’t?

What is the role of opinion in an online news ecosystem? We plan to start with the premise that we are evaluating sites that publish some minimum amount of news pertaining to the City of Chicago. Where does aggregating the news stop and providing some type of opinion on the news begin?

How are online news sites taking advantage of the online medium to better report the news? The online medium ensures that stories can be endlessly updated, that visitors and readers can contribute their observations, and that people can work together to sort through information. What are the practices that allow transparent and effective reader participation in newsgathering?

In a related question, what is the role of the reader/website user in the news ecosystem? We will probably come back to this notion in a blog post later on, but technology gives online news sites something richer and more vibrant (but possibly noxious) in the way of community engagement.

What makes up good online news is a huge question. We may not be able to answer it in a blog post, or even in a report. But we hope to spark a good discussion, as well as give some transparency around the values we’ll rank highly when we look at Chicago local news sites.

What are the elements of online journalism we need as citizens? If you have thoughts on these or other questions, please post to the comments.

Be considered for NEW News 2012

Want to be included in NEW News, or want a news site within the City of Chicago to be considered? Then please add your site’s URL to the comments. And please: tell your friends and colleagues. While we’ll have criteria for our reviews, we want to start with as wide a net as possible. We’d love your help!

Read more about the project here.

Telling a different story about Chicago’s youth this summer

Come summer, we often hear stories about youth violence and no more. As part of the “We Are Not Alone – No Estamos Solos” campaign, the Community Media Workshop is hosting a news conference to talk about what more needs to be told when it comes to Chicago youth and neighborhood violence. These are the stories of everyday heroes, community groups and neighborhoods working against violence. They are stories about solutions and hope and not stereotypes or despair.

Speakers from black and Latino community groups will such as Kids Off the Block, Enlace, True Star Project, Beyond Media and the Center for New Horizons will talk about their work. We Are Not Alone – No Estamos Solos is an effort to link the black and Latino news media to tell different stories about Chicago’s youth violence. The Community Media Workshop and the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council are the program’s sponsors. Grants from the Field and McCormick Foundations support it.

The event is free and anyone is welcome to attend. For those working on or writing about youth or anti-violence issues, this event will be especially powerful.

Event: Tuesday, June 28th

Time:  10 am to noon

Northeastern Illinois University’s Bronzeville Campus, 700 E. Oakwood Blvd, Chicago 60653, 773 268 7500, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, Auditorium

For more information please contact: Stephen Franklin, ethnic news media director, Community Media Workshop, office 312 369 6400: cell 773 595 8667,



What’s your election issue?


We need your help! This is your chance to tell journalists what you want to see in the news during the fall election.

The Workshop is holding a news briefing in October for the ethnic news media on critical issues in this fall’s election. We would like your advice on at least two issues that you think should be raised in news coverage this fall. Tell us two issues that effect your organization and your community and we will pass them along to the more than 300 news outlets serving our area’s black and immigrant communities.

Click here to tell us about the issues you think are important.

Multilingual emergency response for ethnic news

CMW's Steve Franklin (in blue shirt) and others learned about a new multilingual emergency warning system this morning at NAM conference

CMW's Steve Franklin (in blue shirt) and others learned about a new multilingual emergency warning system this morning at NAM conference

(you know it’s bad when your computer no longer remembers the exact address of your WordPress login page. I apologize for an extended social media absence and promise to do better!)

The Workshop’s Thom Clark and Steve Franklin are at the New America Media (NAM) National Ethnic Media Expo & Awards in Atlanta today and tomorrow. Thom reports learning this morning about an emergency warning system NAM is launching:

Whether it’s e-coli in spinach or H1N1 flu, public health messages are largely distributed in English-only traditional media outlets. NAM founder Sandy Close announced today at the opening session of their 2009 Expo a new emergency hotline to send critical public health messages in multiple languages to etnic media outlets. The overflow crowd saw a demonstration of the system and commented on its usefulness.

Emergency messaging would be distributed via the web and mobile communications including a closed loop feedback system to determine which outlets got the message and how they used it. Geo-targeting will allow specific emergencies for, say, hurricanes to include specific evacuation routes or other assistance.

(I know I am going to regret not forcing him to post this to the blog himself). Check Steve’s blog for more from the event, bet he is going to have a few more comments.

Bad for business good for news

In a  week with a bankruptcy, a corrupt governor, a global story about workers and the financial bailout, where do you start? It’s almost too good to be true!

Tribune Co. bankruptcy is bizarre… but it’s more about the news business than the news. Yes, we may quibble about what it looks like and what stories end up in the paper (my personal least favorite from my local Tribune this week is a magazine article noting that Logan Square is “hot.” Still? Just now? Again?) Anyway, we may not always agree with our editors’ choices but would still lose big time  if pro journalists, who go find stuff that they think we all need to know, to fade away.

As Vincent Duffy, news director of Michigan Radio, said at a panel discussion in Flint last week, “You can’t yet get a computer to actually stick a microphone in [Flint] Mayor Williamson’s face … I don’t know how you’re going to hear the news in the future but you are going to hear us [journalists] reporting.” Also on the bankruptcy, remember that the Chicago Reader declared bankruptcy a few months back and they are still publishing fine.

A quick side note on the news business, crucial to remember when you think about the model: ethnic and community news outlets are doing fine! So before we go to thinking about the death of news, let’s celebrate the kind of journalism that makes a governor try to knock out a Tribune editorial board member (if John McCormick does not get a raise out of this, it’s a shame–bankruptcy or no) and raise up our community and ethnic news outlets, like this morning’s story (quoting, ahem, me).


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