The people over at Tribune Media just debuted chicagonow.com: a new blog network launched two weeks ago after three months in beta as chicagosbestblogs.com. Aggregating seventy+ blogs that loosely share a Chicago-centric theme, this site aims to attract young, digitally-savvy readers uninterested in their daily paper and fill the widening hole in the Tribune’s demographic mix.
I wish them well, though I’m clearly not in their demographic. I subscribe to the Trib and until someone comes up with an elegantly-interactive digital crossword, I’ll stay analog. Moreover, I like the illusion that my news at least postures as objective; the injection of obvious left or right bias in every item both exhausts and depresses me.
ChicagoNow appeals to its nascent audience with a pretty wide variety of News and Opinion, Life and Style, Arts and Entertainment, and Sports blogs–category headings seemingly taken right off their print mastheads. A quick skim of their content reveals a largely newspaper-like tone, albeit with the amped up personality and opinions of the individual bloggers. For me, the reading experience was not unlike an evening of Chicago Improv: a few remarkable moments separated by a lot of meandering development. Then again, the analog version contains a lot of material I skim or ignore as well.
The word ‘community’ appears repeatedly throughout the site’s background pages; something that will prove simultaneously crucial as they pitch potential advertisers and challenging as their biggest potential stumbling block. The best online communities build organically (for perspective, check out this month’s Wired magazine’s article on Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist). As Clay Shirky writes, Web 2.0 means we no longer need organizations to organize. Moreover, the user experience needs to come first and foremost and on that count, ChicagoNow seems to be doing it right. You don’t need to register to access the content, but it does unlock other features like comments. The ill-fated, arrived too early, saddled-by-regulatory redtape Bud.tv ultimately collapsed due to those onerous restraints as the hassles to the user outweighed the benefits of the content.
Will ChicagoNow take off and ultimately fill the expanding gap in the Tribune’s audience with new, revenue-generating readers? It’s too early to say, but as a fan of newspapers, I hope it does. And if nothing else, good on them for trying.