From The Published Archives: The Chicago Tribune’s new citizen journalism website

For nine months I was a guest contributor on Fading To Black, a blog dedicated to following the sad decline of the news business.  And since my site, The Writings Of Dennis Earl, relocated from the now-defunct Windows Live Spaces to WordPress.com, I’ve been highlighting some of the work I did there.  (At the old place, I had two lists that only linked to every item I wrote for FTB.)

Here’s one more previously seen piece from that period.  Originally published on April 19, 2007, “The Chicago Tribune’s new citizen journalism website” is all about TribLocal.com.  The idea was to get ordinary citizens to cover news and happenings in their own area.  As you’ll read, I wasn’t sold on it. 

At the time, the site initially planned on covering nine different suburbs with the hope of expanding further in the near future.  Today, TribLocal represents an astounding 84 areas of Illinois. 

Apart from an award issued last year for its revamped look, TribLocal hasn’t been the subject of a lot of national coverage, if a recent Bing search is any indication.  (Note how that above link is nothing more than a regurgitated press release from The Tribune.)  As for the site itself, unless you live in any of these areas, it’s doubtful you’ll find much of the content interesting.

So, despite all my worrying about TribLocal citizen journalists not knowing the basic tenets of journalism, the site has turned out not to be a “disaster in the making”, as I foolishly asserted four years ago, but rather a mundane outlet for local community events, inconsequential to everyone outside Illinois.  That being said, it would be nice if these amateur contributors were paid for their efforts.  (The Huffington Post treats its bloggers the same way.)

One last note about links in the original piece.  The TribLocal FAQ link has been replaced with a current one and the original Chicago Tribune story, which inspired my FTB item, has been junked.  It’s not online anymore and The Internet Archive Wayback Machine couldn’t find a cache copy.

The Chicago Tribune’s new citizen journalism website

Gene Siskel’s old employer is jumping on the citizen journalism bandwagon. The Chicago Tribune has launched a new site called TribLocal which allows residents in nine different surburban areas of the city to contribute stories, photographs, event announcements and anything else that fits the “family-friendly” web format.
 
Four professional Trib journalists have been assigned the thankless task of generating their own content as well as deciding which material generated by the public deserves the most prominence on the site. Also, the paper is planning to take the best contributions and publish them once a week in a tabloid-style insert that will be stuffed inside the broadsheet.
 
This experiment, such as it is, looks like a disaster in the making. According to TribLocal’s FAQ, most of the content will be created and submitted by the public who are also expected to monitor most of the material. Essentially, it’s a localized Wikipedia site with a touch of Craigslist. You have to register for free in order to participate.

Without the same training that professional journalists receive in certified colleges and universities, these “citizen journalists” will be walking into a minefield of ethical dilemmas. Are they aware of terms like “on the record”, “off the record” and “background”? Do they know the difference between offering a commentary and presenting a straight news item? Do they know that three makes a trend? Are they familiar with “sources”? Will there be any serious, groundbreaking journalism on this site or will the showcased stories collectively bore readers?

It appears The Trib is outsourcing the announcements and classified sections of their newspaper to a public-at-large they don’t have to pay. It’s a move that smacks of desperation.

The move comes at a time when the financial outlook for newspapers has never been darker. With circulation and ad revenue flowing to the Internet, papers are scrambling.

The popularity of sites like MySpace.com has convinced many publishers there is value in letting readers create “content.” And local papers are trying to re-engage readers with “hyperlocal” coverage, the minutiae of local community life that the rest of the media ignore.

“This started with the question of how can we make the paper more relevant to readers who continue to live further and further away from the center city,” Biedron said.

Nine urbanized areas of the city, in the west and south, are the initial target areas of this initiative. As the site progresses, The Trib plans to expand beyond those regions.

Whether this ill-conceived project will succeed or crash and burn is anybody’s guess.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 15, 2011
11:40 p.m.

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Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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