Coming out of the Community Media Workshop Making Media Connections Conference I'm struck by how much I have to learn. Each of the conference sessions provided opportunities to learn something new. Much of the conference centered on how to replace newspapers in the new media world. So, in consideration, is it fair to assign the label loser to the printed word? Are we at a point where we can say that the daily newspaper is no longer the top dog?
Although the long-term trend is that newspapers are in decline, they are not out, not yet. Coincidental with the conference, which concludes on Saturday with a round table Chicago Media Future Conference on Saturday, the CMW released a report on the New News. Phil Rosenthal has a well argued critique of the study in which he notes that although, for example, that the ChiTownDailyNews is listed as the number one source based on the criteria of the study, and that the study made a decision to exclude main stream media, there were MSM web sites in the study nevertheless.
That's obviously an issue. Here's what Rosenthal noted:
The top five news sites in Chicago, according to the study's six criteria, including readership and reliability, are chitowndailynews.org, windycitymediagroup.com, gapersblock.com, progressillinois.com and windycitizen.com. No. 6 is chicagopublicradio.org, 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 chicagotribune.com and suntimes.com were left out "because it would just blow everyone else out of the water," (Gordon Mayer, vice president of the Community Media Workshop) said. 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.
Among those web sites that might be major players but that aren't listed is ChicagoNow. It just launched. The web continues to move faster than any person can comprehend. It is an ongoing event, with constantly changing players and plays by unexpected actors with no rules.
ChicagoNow isn't exactly a game changer. A number of web sites have developed similar ideas, including Huffington Post, Gapers Block and WindyCitizen. But like HuffPo it may become the most visible local site to have your blog hosted. Among the highest ranked independent news sites and blogs traffic measures of several thousand visitors a day are common. I expect ChicagoNow has already surpassed that figure. A successful site such as the ChiTownDailyNews sometimes discusses traffic is in the are of 56K per month. The Chicago Tribune sometimes notes it has views in the millions.
I'd expect the CN site to soon surpass ChuffPo in traffic too, as readers recognize that the material in CN is original, compared to the mostly aggregated material in ChuffPo. And it isn't the only chip the Tribune Co. put into the game. There is the excellent Col. Tribune Twitter. And there is a stable of web sites that seem to work, from the Swamp on national politics to the ChicagoBreakingNews site.
The strategy of the Tribune has been to identify market segments that are not reading the newspaper and create a product that will bring them into the product. If Blue is in decline, then Red may be able to bring in new readers and damage the competition of the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Sun-Times, which is a welcome by-product. Their theory is that if this product idea doesn't work, let's try another for the same market. It isn't a new strategy for the Tribune. And the criticism of the management of the newspaper for the manner it has gutted the Blue newsroom stands. But, let's recognize, that at this time, the Tribune is coming back into the game, even if we don't like the management, don't like what has happened to the newspaper and don't believe it when it says it is can still be an effective watchdog.
(Also interesting to note: if this isn't a new strategy for the Tribune Co. you may remember when Sam Zell accused the former management of not addressing the changing economic and market conditions, leading to an impressive decline in the company. However, the stream of products from this company has been impressive. And although the Red product is wildly successful, there were failures along the road too. So, what are we to make of Zell's accusations, especially in light of the gut of Blue?)
So, what is left? The Trib has still abdicated the field of local news largely to the Sun-Times Media Group, Gatehouse, Wednesday's Journal and other publishers. Even those local publications are struggling to put the resources into the field of the hyper-local. TribLocal, the Tribune's own local site has been compromised by being given inadequate resources and by being run more as a marketing tool than an editorial voice. It hasn't really dented the local scene.
This part of the market, whether it is reported by Tom Mannis at the Roger's Park Bench or by Thom Rae at LaGrangeToday, is becoming dominated by passionate writers independent of the large metro paper. Rae's site, which I discussed in a previous posting, is well positioned to capture something the local papers had thought was theirs: local advertising.
It is the area that the ChiTownDailyNews carved out in the city too, talking about niche stories that our readers enjoy or at least want to know about. It is also an area that I'm certain that management in the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times Media Group are trying to figure out how to take.
No, the papers are not gone yet. There is still fight in the beasts. And that is good.