Where is the Local News Innovation?


November 4, 2012

Any time I begin to think about where news is and where it is going, I inevitably go back to the Chicago Journalism Town Hall, convened on a cold February Sunday afternoon in 2009. A galvanizing event for me, it convinced me there was an opportunity to improve the news business, since so much of what was said in the room was backward-focused and regressive.

For those of you who couldn’t make the meting, it was a rare moment when leading Chicago news lights of old, like John Calloway and Carol Marin, shared a table with new, young turks, like Andrew Huff and Geoff Dougherty. Just four years ago, it seems a million years ago when most of the 300 journalists in the room chuckled at Twitter references and Huffington Post-Chicago’s aggregation methods were fingered as theft.

It mostly went unsaid that the news business would have to innovate, but the biggest fear that day was that some time soon, there would simply not be enough news at all. How wrong we all were.

Today, readers are awash in content, struggling to decide which to read and which to ignore. On Chicago’s North Side, a reader attempting to keep up with local news and events can choose between the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Patch.com, my company’s neighborhood sites, Metromix, television and radio stations, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, Time Out: Chicago, Red Eye, Chicagoist, Gapers Block and a host of other local independent news and event sites. They can sort through email updates and apps on their smart phones with Daily Candy Yelp, Urbanspoon, Men’s Book…

It’s exhausting.

Since that day, we’re more awash in content than ever before. Well-to-do Chicagoans have an ever growing number of information sources to choose from, not to mention the newest forms of information sources, Facebook and Twitter, all trying to crowd themselves into our brains.

Today there is no danger of news going away. Even “quality” news, the Town Hall’s much mentioned totem, is relatively easy to find.

Yet, news delivery seems to be essentially the same as it was in 2009. Mediums have changed. More digital. More email. More social media. But we’re still reading short briefs, long form dives, video clips and podcasts.

Where are the big break out changes? How, if at all, has news really changed?