It’s been almost a month since DNAinfo and Chicagoist were shut down by billionaire founder and owner Joe Ricketts. In one swift move, quickly following a vote by the New York newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist to join the Writers Guild of America East, the 8-year-old and 14-year-old news organizations, respectively, were abruptly dismantled one Thursday afternoon in early November, leaving 116 journalists out of a job.
DNAinfo and Chicagoist served different but important roles in an urban metropolis with 2.7 million people living across a 234-square-mile area in 77 distinctive neighborhoods. Part blotter, part news repository, DNAinfo provided localized, neighborhood reporting covering business, politics, events and community news. We at LoganSquarist turned to DNAinfo for the quick headlines. Chicagoist was our cheeky sister, shining a light on the interesting, quirky and often strange parts of city. We turned to Chicagoist to know how we felt about our community.
With the closure of these two news sources, much of Chicago is left asking:
What do we do now?
As a 13-year journalist, I’ve spent the past month mourning, commiserating, admittedly complaining and contemplating the impact that yet another corporate decision, attack on journalism and critical blow to local news reporting leaves on not only journalism as a whole, but closer to home, our neighborhood of Logan Square I love so much.
Journalism Is at a Crossroads
If we’re being honest, there’s nothing new in what happened with DNAinfo’s closure. The priorities of corporate media have prevailed over the ethics of journalism for decades, with critical news outlets shuttering because of media conglomeration or unsustainable business models that can’t compete in this fast-wielding, always-free digital world. Media conglomeration has especially muddied the waters, prioritizing advertisers, business partnerships and clicks over the true tenets journalism holds true. (For the history buffs and research inclined, you can take a hard look at Disney Corp. as a perfect example of the effects media conglomeration has had on hard news reporting.)
Examples of this effect are vast across the country, but closer to home, look no further than Center Square Journal, the north side’s news website which closed in 2013 (ironically by DNAinfo) citing challenges in maintaining a sustainable structure. Founder Mike Fourcher details the challenges of running a hyperlocal news site on his blog. Other local Chicago news organizations have also shuttered for various reasons, including Gapers Block, NBC’s Everyblock (for a time) and even Logan Square’s Chiboulevards.
And if we’re even more honest, the closure of all of these sources was unfortunately inevitable, given the priorities of a business-focused, bottom line-hungry industry. The business of journalism has yet to create a sustainable model that balances the needs of profit generation; the capability of journalists to provide quality, authentic reporting; and the ability to foster the interest, support and loyalty of a local audience or community.
With demand high, supply low and the actual money to back such endeavors somewhere in between:
How does hyperlocal journalism survive?
The Importance of Hyperlocal Journalism
Hyperlocal journalism is the lifeblood of many local neighborhoods, a critical part of American democracy and the fourth branch of government. It’s a necessary aspect of keeping communities thriving — often connecting business owner, politician and neighbor across common interests, values and concerns.
Hyperlocal journalists serve a critical role in not only uncovering those stories most important to the community, but being willing to do the dirty work, dig in and uncover that truth.
As my friend Lisa White, former news editor at DNAinfo Chicago, said so aptly in her own thoughts about journalists today:
We’re some of the most compassionate, thoughtful and persistent people around, and that is never more evident when we’re down for the count.”
Journalists all too often get a bad rap for the role they play in today’s digital content-consuming world. Part messiah, part scapegoat, modern-day journalists walk a tightrope of neutrality, accuracy and speed to publish — priorities that ultimately are at odds with each other.
But in truth, journalists seek a simple truth, and that is the truth. The desire to tell a story, a story that cuts to the core essence of what happened. And a story that resonates with an audience seeking truth, information, story or connection.
So how do we provide hard-working journalists a home that cultivates the necessary environment they need to create this truth?
Hyperlocal Journalism in Logan Square
At LoganSquarist, we count ourselves among the “compassionate, thoughtful and persistent” as we work to provide articles that fill a gap in our community. As an all-volunteer staff, we do this in our spare time, diligently working late nights (like I am right now typing this article), setting up interviews over the weekend and “chasing” the story in the spare moments between our 9 to 5s, our side hustles, our freelance gigs, our classes and our jobs we do because we have to get by.
Our model isn’t perfect — hell, I’ll admit it’s far from that. As an all-volunteer-based organization, we’re solely dependent on advertising revenue, our annual fundraiser and support from neighbors like you. We live in a world just outside the journalism perimeter that organizations like DNAinfo and Chicagoist reside. Although we don’t share the same overhead, staffing and business challenges these groups do, we struggle to the find the balance between sustainable interest, the organization’s staffing and Logan Square’s community need — the win-win-win, as I often say.
Because we’re a volunteer staff, we’re unique in how we structure ourselves, prioritize our goals and focus our time. At the end of the day, our priorities walk a fine line between news supplier and events facilitator, bringing neighbors together offline and in real life. I started LoganSquarist six and a half years ago as a way to keep up with an ever-changing, growing neighborhood I had made my home three and a half years prior. And our ultimate mission to socialize the neighborhood has remained our tagline, and guiding principle, since day one.
What once started as a side project has quickly become a lifelong passion, a humbling experience and one of the greatest gifts I’ve experienced, both personally and professionally.
What Do We Do Now?
Admittedly, I don’t have the answer for solving today’s journalistic quandaries. What I do know is that hyperlocal journalism is a necessity, and absolutely needed in a community like ours. What I hope is that we can figure this out together, finding the win-win-win we’re all looking for.
If you, like I do, value hyperlocal journalism, I present you three possible, and relatively immediate, solutions:
- Join us. It’s that simple. Take a look at our staff opportunities to see if anything aligns with your interests and personal/professional goals. Not seeing something that truly fits? Let us know how you think you can contribute to our efforts; we’d love to meet you!
- Support us. If volunteering isn’t quite your speed, help us do what we do by supporting our mission. It’s relatively easy to do by sending us a nominal donation of your choice or attending one of our many special events. Contributions go directly to supporting our operating costs and allowing us to do more of what we do in the Logan Square community.
- Advertise with us. Businesses, organizations and groups large and small can help support us and connect with local residents by taking advantage of our advertising opportunities, including display ads and featured events. We reach a pretty diverse, large and active portion of the neighborhood. Take advantage of our partnership.
We want to keep hyperlocal journalism alive. And though we in no way can fill the void DNAinfo and Chicagoist are leaving, we hope to continue to do our part in serving a neighborhood that has touched each and every one one of us. We hope you join us in this effort, and together, we can work to build a stronger, more connected and more socialized neighborhood than the one we first fell in love with.
Have your own thoughts? I’d love to read them in the comments or hear from you personally. I encourage you to reach to me at [email protected].