Study measures Chicago's non-traditional online news sources

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Posted by on June 10, 2009 at 13:01:36:

Study measures Chicago's non-traditional online news sources

Those behind report admit it's not definitive

Phil Rosenthal | Tribune Media

June 10, 2009

Still weak and achy despite a week out sick, there comes a time when you have to go back to work, ready or not. Like General Motors. Or Patti Blagojevich.

Even in the absence of this column and updates on its complementary blog, you probably still found out: Newsweek took a pop at Oprah Winfrey for some of the zanier wellness concepts her program has showcased. Conan O'Brien apparently has a new job. And CBS Radio's WSCR-AM 670 signed Dan McNeil, a good hire that, unfortunately, is getting hyped every -- DANNY MAC'S BACK ON THE SCORE JUNE 15TH -- few minutes during White Sox -- MAC'S BACK MONDAY -- broadcasts.

The info still flowed elsewhere in print and online.

A new report due out Wednesday from the Community Media Workshop, commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust with $25,000 of a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, attempts to look at alternative news sources. In recognition of the economic pressures wreaking havoc on traditional news outlets such as this one, "The New News: Journalism We Want and Need" offers an inventory and assessment of area online news sites.

"We decided we should do an environmental scan to see who was doing some of the work that we were thinking about doing ourselves," said Ngoan Le, vice president of programs for the Community Trust.

It's earnest but hit or miss.

"It's the first kind of study like this, and now we know why. It's really hard," said Gordon Mayer, vice president of the Community Media Workshop. "One of the things that we said to people while we were doing this is that trying to take a snapshot of what's going on with online news in Chicago right now is sort of like trying to take a picture of a speeding train from a moving car. We don't think this is a definitive study."


The top five news sites in Chicago, according to the study's six criteria, including readership and reliability, are,,, and No. 6 is, which is just one of the problems with making sense of the results, in that it seems as though that would be considered mainstream.

Outlets such as and were left out "because it would just blow everyone else out of the water," Mayersaid. Yet the Tribune's Daywatch e-mail is at No. 27 and Lynn Sweet's Sun-Times blog is No. 28. Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co.'s Chicago magazine's Web site clocks in at No. 47.

"All of these online news publications are so different, there's no single scale to measure them on. ... And we know we don't have some of the major players," said Mayer, whose organization's Web site was ranked No. 21.

The premise was that there has been and continues to be enough talk about the challenges of funding journalism going forward. The aim, therefore, is to stop talking about dollars and discuss values. What kind of news is wanted and necessary and where might it be found, apart from the big mainstream news?

Focus groups made up of leaders of non-profit organizations from across the region hardly make a typical audience sample, but those gathered for this study said they wanted news that was accurate, honest and fair, presented in a way that prioritized importance and gave a sense of the big picture. Like mainstream news.

The study -- through the use of keyword searches of only the print editions of the Tribune and Sun-Times from 1986 to the present, ignoring their online efforts -- cites a decline in local news coverage after an apparent peak in 1994. Exceptions included corruption and bribery.

But it's not clear whether a keyword search is a reliable benchmark. It doesn't speak to a story's length, depth, quality or how big a story was played. Which is what the study's focus groups said was most important.

"This is a report that everyone will find something to hate about," Mayer said. "It's not a flashlight. It's a candle, or a match, in a dark room."

A $25,000 match.

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