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Making Way for the Mobile Revolution

responsive web design example

The Making Media Connections conference website boasts a responsive web design.

Guest post by Marissa Wasseluk, opinions are that of the author.

When a stranger asks you to use your phone, what are the chances you’d wholeheartedly pass it to them? Personally, I have trouble passing my phone to good friends without trepidation. A phone is an object with deep personal attachment. It’s your personal connection to the rest of the world – the communications tool you carry with you nearly all the time.

If you’re reading this blog in America, there’s a 50% chance that the phone in your pocket is a smartphone. Recent studies show that half of American adults own a smartphone, which means that half of American adults are regularly carrying an Internet browser, audio and video recording devices, games, and social networks on their person

Given these statistics, it is estimated that by 2015, most interactions with the web will occur on a mobile deviceSo in order to stay ahead of the curve, now would be a good time to consider incorporating mobile-friendly messages into your organization’s overall communications strategy.

Here are some things to consider when making your communications mobile:

  • Design your website to be “responsive”
    Responsive web design is a web design approach that aims to create sites that adapt the layout to the viewing platform (tablet, computer, mobile phone) for easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling. This is achieved by using fluid, proportion-based grids, & flexible images. You can tell a site is responsive when you resize a web browser and the website content continually fills the screen.
  • Make your content interactive
    Focus on action; what do you want your users to do? Sign up for your e-newsletter? Donate? Define your goals and make your call to action. Make it 
    obvious, and make it easy. 
  • Keep your content simple
    Small screens mean less time reading, more time skimming. Text-heavy content is less likely read. 
  • Get Personal
    Every social media platform can be done accessed by a mobile device, so remember that your social media efforts are already a part of your mobile strategy.

More resources and tips on utilizing the mobile web are available from the Knight Digital Media Center.

The rise of mobile technology not only changes the way you consume content, but also the way you create it. Charlie Meyerson, freelance mobile journalist and moderator for our Mobile Storytelling panel at Making Media Connections had an astute observation about mobile technologies reshaping the way we tell stories:



It’s true that there’s an app for just about everything, and digital storytelling is no exception. There are apps that will allow you to take and post short videos, create slideshows, record audio, blog – any tool a journalist can think of using to tell a story is available on a mobile platform!

There is no doubt that mobile technology will revolutionize the way we send and receive messages, and at the rate this communications movement is advancing, it might seem difficult to keep up. But with a little practice and research, you’ll be a mobile mogul long before the mobile revolution!

At Making Media Connections this June, we’ve lined up experts in this field to further discuss what tools you’ll need to create your content on the go, and what to keep in mind for your mobile audience. Join us! 

Rick Kogan named Steve Edwards’ successor

As the Workshop completed our third NEW News Report on Chicago’s online news ecosystem and our research for the 2013 edition of the Getting On Air, Online, and Into Print media guide, we realize that there have probably been more changes in the media landscape recently than ever before. Taking into account the quantity and variety of online news outlets in the city, we must note that even the media itself is evolving.

One recent notable change in Chicago media – Steve Edwards, long-time host at WBEZ will sign off as the host of Afternoon Shift for the last time this Friday, September 21. Slotted to take his place for the next month or two is long-time WGN radio host Rick Kogan.

Who would have ever thought hat a Tribune Company veteran (and Studs Terkel Community Media Award winner) would end up replacing a public radio announcer?

Though this kind of “station-hopping” may have been unheard of some years ago, but given the talent and reputations of these two local personalities, the direction WBEZ is taking with this shift is logical – even admirable.

You can keep abreast of the ever-changing shifts in the media landscape like this with an up-to-date media guide, or a subscription to the online media guide – which updates itself every week!

As media evolves, so does Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times will be releasing a new mobile app in the next month, according to Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk. In an interview at the Publicity Club of Chicago’s monthly luncheon at Maggiano’s Restaurant, moderated by Thom Clark of the Community Media Workshop, Kirk noted the future of news delivery will be on mobile phone and pad platforms “because they’re personal.”

He discussed a wide range of topics on the present and future of the Sun-Times: the integration of The Reader’s art and culture content, new Sunday magazine sections, new reporters on the education beat, and expanded business and sports coverage. Hyperlocal news will continue to grow in importance and he believes the Sun-Times suburban titles will help grow local readers.

Kirk would like to see the return of political endorsements (but isn’t sure the new owners are there yet). He offered pithy comments on the mayor, the governor and legislative leaders and suggested bluntly that local media did miss parts of the NATO Summit story by concentrating on protestors over diplomats.

Listen to the entire interview below:

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.

Measuring reach online

One of the metrics the Workshop looks at when studying local news sites is their reach. How many people read the news they create? We believe reach is important because we believe that news sites serve a critical public purpose, and that readership may, albeit imperfectly, reflect the value a site holds in the eyes of its communities.

Having said that, though, while we believe understanding the reach of sites is important, it’s an imperfect item to measure at best.

In the first NEW News report, we relied on self-reported data as one criteria in our rankings algorithm. The good thing about relying upon self-reported data is that it allowed us to have data on every operator in the study, including smaller sites whose traffic was not captured by Alexa or Google. The bad thing is that it was self-reported, which generated a lot of questions about whether we were all measuring the same metrics in the same way or, in some cases, whether the data was accurate.

In the subsequent NEW News study, we have instead relied upon measures that are available to everyone, which leads to a different set of challenges.

  • Public estimates of site traffic, from Quantcast, Alexa or, often drastically undercount traffic to smaller sites. Because they are based on a small subset of overall website traffic, they tend to have accurate numbers for larger sites and less accurate numbers for smaller sites. In addition, some sites code their sites for better Quantcast data, while others do not allow their Quantcast data to be displayed to the public.
  • Public proxies of site traffic, such as the number of RSS subscribers in Google Reader, or the number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers, represent the actions of a subset of visitors. They may be more likely to be regular readers. But it’s still not everyone, and we don’t have a consistent way to say that a site with, perhaps, 1,000 Facebook likes actually has 10,000 monthly unique visitors.

At this point, we intend to pull analytics or traffic ranks from Quantcast, Alexa and, as well as the number of RSS subscribers in Google Reader, Facebook likes, and followers of an organization or editor’s Twitter account, and use those numbers to create a scoring system for reach. (For consideration, the Facebook and Twitter accounts must be readily available from the organization’s home page.) For sites such as that present data over time, we will likely create an average of the prior six months of traffic.

What do you think of our ranking options? What would you add or delete, and what would you be concerned about? Please share your comments in the comment field below.

Online sites we should include in our research? Comment here.

Interested in commenting on overall project? Comment here.

Coming soon: NEW News 2012

Here at the Workshop we’re anticipating a busy but incredibly educational summer: we are starting work on NEW News 2012, thanks to the funding of The Chicago Community Trust. As you may recall, we published rankings of online news sites in 2009 and then a list of online news outlets in 2010. We intend to return to rankings in 2012, learning from our original criteria, the changes in the field, and from an advisory board we are assembling to help guide us as we think through our work.

Over the next few days, we will be sharing with you some of the key issues we’re wrestling with as we start this project. We will likely return with a follow-up blog post or two in June or July. Our hope is that you, our readers, will share any concerns or questions you have, and suggestions for how we might do this better.

Some key changes we’re already envisioning for 2012’s NEW News:

  • We’ll rank entire publications or news organizations, not breaking out the individual reporters or bloggers that are part of those organizations separately. In prior years, we’d list or rank several bloggers from a single organization (think Lynn Sweet or Roger Ebert of the Sun-Times). This year, we are switching our focus to organizations. We anticipate this may raise some additional challenges. If you are a small news startup or solo news blogger, this shouldn’t affect you too much.
  • We will not use self-reported data to measure site traffic. Truth is, getting accurate traffic numbers from external sources is challenging, but relying upon data we didn’t collect is even more problematic. In a future post, we’ll talk about our alternatives and get your input on how we measure traffic and how much importance we should place on it.
  • We will not rank sites or publishers whose audiences are primarily based outside of the City of Chicago. This reflects a time and resource issue on our part. While the Internet may be worldwide, most readers’ news interests are very local. The reduction of beat reporters and newspaper coverage of local issues was a primary motivation for The NEW News research. Seismic shifts are going on in online news in Chicago’s suburbs, and we hope to touch on those shifts in a sidebar to the main report.
  • Along with rating the quantity and quality of a site’s news production, we will assess the ways in which the site creates community that advances a better-informed and more engaged citizenry. Look for our ideas—and our eagerness to hear your thoughts on this front—in a blog post later this summer.

We anticipate releasing our research at the Block by Block Conference, taking place in September at Loyola University.

What are your thoughts and suggestions as we begin this project? Please comment below.

Know a site we should consider? Comment here.

Have thoughts about how we’ll measure online reach? Comment here.


Can you reach millions with metro news?

With the rise of online news, traditional news has taken a huge hit in audience and circulation numbers in recent years, but in a major media market like Chicago, it is still the place where, yes, millions of people go for information. Just take a look at these numbers:

Chicago Tribune – 414,590 average daily circulation (includes print and digital)

Chicago Sun-Times – 269,489 average daily circulation (print and digital)

Daily Herald – 99,670 average daily circulation (print and digital)

WBEZ radio – and average of 118,000 listeners per day

There are nearly 3.5 million Chicago households watching television, according to nielsen. (If someone can find me breakdowns for local TV news audiences, please, send those numbers my way!)

And the Workshop’s NEW News 2010 report found that millions of people visit the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times websites each month.

These are still BIG numbers. These numbers are why so many organizations still desperately want that Tribune story or Channel 2 feature. The Workshop knows that while telling our own stories online is vital to the success of our organizations, continuing to mine opportunities to tell a newsworthy story to a larger audience via traditional media is also important. Make your journey through traditional media easier by meeting some of the reporters and producers who can help you place your stories. One of our most popular and well-attended panels each year at the nonprofit communications conference Making Media Connections is the Metro News panel. Join us this year to hear from Cate Cahan, WBEZ; Madeleine Doubek, Daily Herald; David Schalliol, Gapers Block; and Deidra White, CBS-2.

Hear from the reporters and editors themselves about the types of stories they’re looking for, when to pitch them, and how they prefer to be contacted. Chicago is a big media market, and pitching traditional media can be tricky. This panel will give you useful tips that might make the difference between a successful pitch and one that flops. We hope to see you at Making Media Connections 2012!

Sun-Times lays off some of its most prolific writers

Photo by swanksalot on

Guest post by Slats G. Galloway

The recent layoffs of five Sun-Times reporters — media and marketing columnist Lewis Lazare, book editor Cheryl Jackson, preps sportswriter Steve Tucker, sportswriter John Jackson and features reporter Misha Davenport — are just the latest paring of the Sun-Times’ editorial staff. Previous layoffs and buyouts have claimed other talented writers, including Susan Hogan/Albach, Celeste Busk, Doug Elfman, Jim Ritter, Lloyd Sachs, Michelle Stevens, Michael Gillis and Howard Wolinsky.

The losses of Lazare, C. Jackson, J. Jackson, Davenport and Tucker are big ones. Lazare and Cheryl Jackson, for instance, each wrote nearly 250 bylined articles for the Sun-Times from mid-March 2010 until mid-March 2011, and Tucker added another 174. John Jackson had 337!–the fourth most bylines of any Sun-Times writer we looked at. Lazare, Cheryl Jackson and John Jackson, in fact, were among the paper’s 12 most prolific writers during that timeframe.

In addition, the five who were laid off represented over 7.5% of all Sun-Times staffers with regular bylines in the paper. And given the writers’ high article counts over the past year, they probably represented some percentage greater than that in terms of actual output. Obviously, the paper’s entire editorial department also includes plenty of staffers who do things other than write, like photographers, editors and graphic designers. Still, we find it to be a sobering figure for those drawn to the written word.

Of course, as the Sun-Times (and all newspapers) work to adapt their business models, there is (and probably will be) a greater reliance on freelance work, including from former staffers like Steve Huntley and Esther J. Cepeda. Even so, the layoffs point to the diminishing amount of staff-generated content at the Sun-Times.

Staff changes at the Sun-Times and other outlets have been noted in our online media guide. Learn more about the new tool at

Four reasons to be hopeful for news (Guest post by Mike Fourcher)

Photo by Matt Stratton

Guest post by Mike Fourcher, co-founder and manager of some of Chicago’s great online news sites including Early and Often, Center Square Journal and Roscoe View Journal

I believe there are four reasons to be optimistic about the future of news media.

  • Post-modernist cynicism,
  • The Long Tail,
  • WordPress, and

Post-modernist cynicism creates a consumer attitude that there is no real truth in any one source. Truth – if it can be known – is individual and personal, rather than delivered. Today even the least media savvy know that you can’t trust what you see on TV and that smart people look for multiple sources.

This is very bad news for large dailies like the Tribune and Sun-Times, which have striven to serve the every man. They are like the old Marshall Field’s and Wieboldt’s department stores, once Goliaths that were slain by a thousand Lilliputian Circuit Cities, Gaps and Linens ‘n’ Things.

It is good news for startups looking to create a niche. If they can find you, readers will read you and consider you a credible source. You can get a foothold if you serve an unserved niche.

The Long Tail is Chris Anderson’s theory referring to the edges of a Bell curve. That our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

Again, this is bad news for large dailies. They can no longer provide one-size-fits-all-news, like the kind you find on newsstands. To capture reader interest, they must find ways to cover as many different niches as possible.  This is what the Tribune is attempting with Chicago Now – but even then, the Long Tail stretches farther than Colonel Tribune can reach, providing the rest of us with a lot of room to run in.

WordPress is a magnificent free tool with which you can publish your reporting in a professional-looking manner from Day One. It is easy for beginners to start, and if you choose to learn more, there is a worldwide, welcoming community that will show you how to solve its programming problems. It is a complex, free, very flexible tool that is the underpinnings of many important news sites including the New York Times and Yahoo News.

And my news sites, and too!

WordPress is as important a revolution in publishing as the pairing of Pagemaker with a laser printer was twenty years ago.

Finally, is not a cause for optimism because they are hiring but because they are spending a lot of money on convincing people that hyperlocal news, with just one local editor, is a credible source. I am beginning to believe that will be known as the Starbucks of local news. They will encourage an entirely new category of news consumers who are discerning about their local news.

As Intelligensia and Metropolis Coffee could not have existed without Starbucks first paving the way, I think will do the same for hyperlocal news.

There’s a great deal of opportunity out there. But it isn’t like anything we’ve seen before.

Guest essay: Thou shalt not plagiarize or invent quotes


As I mentioned last week,  I am publishing the guest essays from our recent report “Realizing Potential” about the long-term needs of the online news sector on the NP Communicator blog. This essay by’s Jessica Rosenberg is the second of three. Read the first one by online news expert Michele McLellan hereRead the full report here.

“Realizing Potential” Guest Essay: Thou Shalt Not Plagiarize or Invent Quotes

By Jessica Rosenberg,, Burr Ridge

I graduated from journalism school at a time when the prospect of a no-newspaper town seemed very real in Chicago.  We all know the story: The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times had filed for bankruptcy, neighborhood papers were folding, and layoffs in every sector of the economy happened daily.  The saving grace, for journalism at least, was the internet.  The ability to publish virtually for free and reach almost everyone almost everywhere made the internet an attractive home for journalism.

At the start of graduate school, teachers developed our basic reportorial skills and stressed the importance of telling the truth, always.  But toward the end of school, classes focused more on online publishing, blogs, video and social media than on the skills of the traditional newspaperman.  As the market and my class offerings changed, I realized in order to have a chance in this cruel market, I had to know a little bit of everything.  It was no longer enough to be a good writer and know how to conduct an effective interview—I had to do it all.

So I went the multimedia route.  By the time I earned my master’s degree, I could record and edit audio and video and write a knockout piece of journalism to upload to my personal blog.

Eventually, this set of skills brought me to Patch.  Patch is online hyperlocal news.  Select communities around the country have their own unique Patch websites.  A local editor who generates content specific to that community manages each site.

Throughout the day, a combination of news, opinion, video and photo is uploaded to the site.  I am the local editor for suburban Burr Ridge and, like other local editors, I am a team of one working from my home.  Patch is owned by AOL and each month they give me a freelance budget with which I am to hire reporters.

With all the out-of-work journalists, I thought finding reporters would be easy.   Boy, was I wrong.

Finding candidates with social media and blogging skills has been easy.  These days, they’re a dime a dozen.  Finding candidates with a few video and photo skills has been fairly easy, too. While these skills are valuable in themselves, they don’t necessarily make one a journalist.  The definition of what constitutes a journalist is in flux, but there are certain skills that are non-negotiable.  For example, it’s been difficult finding a candidate who can actually write well, interview and uphold some kind of journalistic integrity (like thou shalt not plagiarize or invent quotes) in addition to being a little web-savvy.

What’s even more surprising—and frightening—is that many of these applicants are young and some even have degrees in journalism.  When I learn a candidate’s reporting has been inaccurate or they prefer to do interviews via e-mail, I get scared for the future of journalism.

Has the demand for multimedia news taken away from the craft of writing and the importance of accuracy?  Do they not teach writing and ethics in j-school anymore?

I wish that in learning to be an all-purpose, multimedia journalist, aspiring reporters would also learn how to write beautifully (not text-speak, but write).  I wish the next generation of reporters would learn that an e-mail interview never takes the place of a phone call or a knock on a door.  I wish that teachers and mentors would incorporate the importance of being ethical into their lesson plan on editing digital video.

This recession has forced many people to return to basics.  I feel the same shift needs to happen in the journalism industry.  Online journalism is here to stay, and it is important to know the multimedia skills required to work in the industry.  However, it seems that the rush to adapt has undermined the essence of journalism.  I would love to see a revival in creative writing for journalists at the university and continuing education level, or an increase in workshops that focus on interviewing strategies and what it means to be ethical—because some people seem to have missed that lesson.  What’s more, I would love to fill the open positions I’m offering at Burr Ridge Patch with clever and trustworthy reporters.


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