ChicagoNow: I’m Shocked, I Tell You

Chicago Tribune’s big “hey, we have some blogs” network turns out to prove, once again, that that the journalism is killing the Internet:

I don’t think the needs of bloggers were ever truly considered when
ChicagoNow was originally planned out. I don’t think they have been
taken seriously in the months since the network debuted. And I fear
they never will be.

Now that the culling has started, ChicagoNow staff say they’re moving away from a niche blogging strategy and towards a “community news” model, creating new neighborhood blogs to provide more “granular” local news. I wish those new bloggers luck. If theTribune
weren’t trying to re-invent the blogosphere wheel yet again, the paper
might take might notice of the already successful experience of theSeattle Times.
The Emerald City paper identified and partnered with existing and
already well-read neighborhood blogs to accomplish the same, granular
aim. The partnerships are working, and theTimes heavily promotes the third-party community news content on its home page.

I doubt the Trib’s newsroom would ever allow bloggers to be taken
seriously like that in Chicago. In fact, reporter reticence may explain
the whole bloggers-be-damned blogging strategy in the first place.
During my ten months blogging for ChicagoNow, the distinction
between “hobbyist” bloggers and “professional” journalists was always
underscored, generally by the journalists, themselves

In one particularlybrutal example of this, when I disagreed withTrib architecture critic Blair Kamin in an early blog post, he responded by:

  • writing athree-page angry letter to ChicagoNow management;
  • yelling at me over the phone for 10 minutes;
  • telling me itwasn’t my place to speak to him because it wastes his time when he’s not dealing directly with editors;
  • telling me itwasn’t my place to disagree with him because his Pulitzer Prize and years of architectural criticism elevate his opinions above those of rank-and-file Chicagoans;
  • saying that Ididn’t “have the right” to disagree with newsroom staff, anyway, since my check was coming from theTribune;
  • demanding that Iedit my blog post tohis liking; and
  • demanding that Itake dictation of his verbal edits over the phone.

And if you think I’m kidding, I took notes during Kamin’s animated and highly disrespectfultour-de-farce–for
which he never apologized–to make sure I remembered it all. In the end,
Kamin didn’t get his way, but it’s safe to assume he’s not the only
asshole in the newsroom. Shortly after the debut of ChicagoNow’sDivision and Rush satirical illustrated blog about the Drew Peterson murder case, blogger Todd Allen received a series of obscene comments from an I.P. address traced directly to Tribune Tower.

Emphasis in the original. I wouldn’t take such things at face value if I hadn’t heard similar stories (and worse) from others as well. What a bunch of snobs. God Almighty, why reject good information and/or valid commentary just on the basis of it originating in pixels? Either the crit is valuable or it’s not. Everybody has a right to disagree with you. There is no higher degree or place of employment that exempts you from criticism, ever. No matter how much we may occasionally wish it so.

And if anything was ever ripe for satire, it’s the local news soap opera bullshit that is the coverage of the Peterson murder case. You can’t take a joke? Then go home, wuss. Jesus.

This I found especially galling:

… visitor loyalty is especially important because ChicagoNow bloggers are only compensated for local page views in the ChicagoDMA and nowhere else.


In the end I was offered the same rate as other bloggers: $5 per 1,000
local page views. Curiously, many of my ChicagoNow posts generated
healthy national page views. That’s no help in theTribune‘s
financial worldview. Although most bloggers would benefit from the
platform-enhancing exposure of a national readership, the Trib makes
its money from local ad revenue. Instead, ChicagoNow’s compensation scheme is aimed at disincentivizing national readership. In essence, theTribune
demands that its bloggers ignore the growth potential of their own
brands while expecting them to help bolster the Trib’s brand.

Because look. Yeah, you want local eyeballs if you’re a local paper (though the Tribune spends enough time wanking on and on and carrying Charles Krauthammer to imply it wants to be a national paper). I wouldn’t mind local eyeballs. I love this city and I’d like every important media figure here reading my writing about the newspaper crisis. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna reject for the purposes of counting as earned the readers who come from outside the tri-county area. You, from Utah, fuck off! You don’t count! WTH? If I’m getting hits I want credit for them no matter where they come from.

I also want respect for the work I’m doing. I don’t know when your paycheck or the name on your business card robs you of your ability to have manners, but seriously. Maybe you have to have some godlike confidence in your place of business in order to distract yourself from all the crap you’re having to do (Blair Kamin, I’m glad you take your job seriously, but so does everyone else) but if the work is not enough for you, if you have to justify your existence by puffing out your chest about your prizes, please, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, go get some therapy.

Just having a blog isn’t enough, either. I keep saying this whenever the online-only fetishists start up with their bullshit, as if the marketing problem goes away once you’re on the Internet. If you want local eyeballs, you need to advertise locally, get your name out locally, and make yourself available locally. None of that happens without money and commitment, neither of which the Tribune exactly lends to its newspaper, much less a bunch of blogs.

The problem with ChicagoNow is that that’s exactly what it was: A bunch of blogs. Some of them good and interesting and smart and worth bookmarking. Some of them the five thousandth version of a John Kass column or a bunch of Cubs fans whining about their team. There was no common purpose. There was no purpose, period, no unity, no commonality of style or editorial priorities of any kind. I went to the homepage and didn’t immediately see what it was about. Why are you there? Just to be there? Why have blogs? Just to have them? This isn’t 2003 anymore.

In any case, the thing had all the hallmarks of a potential newspaper-blog clusterfuck, and look. A newspaper-blog clusterfuck! I keep looking at these things wanting to be wrong, really. I keep waiting for it to happen.



4 thoughts on “ChicagoNow: I’m Shocked, I Tell You

  1. Not to mention, the more granular you get, the smaller your audience. The smaller audience seems to lead directly to the kook who essentially hijacks the comments to push a very specific point of view.

  2. One of these days I really do need to get around to hosting the Throw The Thieving Bastards in Prison panel, don’t I?

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