Monday, November 06, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part one.

10th anniversary koozies. And yes we still have some in our house. Want one?
A key takeaway in this New York Times piece, that almost every other piece has missed while focusing on the DNAinfo portion of the story of the sudden shuttering of so many new outlets:
Gothamist, on the other hand, was profitable, and a fairly recent addition to the company.
In a perfect world, Mr. Ricketts would release sites like Chicagoist to run themselves again. Heck, I’d be happy to help run Chicagoist as a largely volunteer driven collective of smart writers covering arts and food and new with a biting edge again.

There is a place for it.

And if I can’t do it at Chicagoist I’ll do it elsewhere, and help bring another site to the heights Chicagoist earned.

But, maybe?

TO BE CLEAR I always respected the work of DNAinfo Chicago writers—I was long a fan of much of their much-needed writing covering the city's neighborhoods at a granular level—and also respected that Ricketts supported hyper-local news in the form that was almost a patron of the media (and anyone that thought any writer for DNA would ever self-edit to match Ricketts politics is sorely wrong).

But the -ists? As a collective, over the years, we did make money (you think we survived 15+ years without making a cent?) and as a whole we were self-supporting. And I know we never bent to anyone for ad dollars. (Hell I can think of more than one front page takeover that was unintentionally met with a review or news story that directly opposed the ad buyer's intentions.)

We built our reputation on writing that championed arts, culture, and food;  and offered a pointed take on the news of the day. To me the core of Chicagoist through most of its tenure—and I think many longtime readers would agree with me—was our original content. I brought on dozens of writers during my tenure and they all wrote smart, interesting takes on music, dance, theater, books, museums and more. And my compatriots brought on writers who tackled the city's food scene intelligently even before our corners were filled with Michelin recognized restaurants.

Our reputation, the one that made readers follow and grow the site, was built on turning people onto new stuff. But, I'll delve more into the highs and lows of that in a separate post. My point is, we were always, proudly, defiantly, an -ist.

And even post acquisition, we were never really all that integrated or subsumed into the Ricketts culture. Heck, last Friday was the first time the firewall came down and most of us in Chicago even spoke to our our DNA friends. Which is to say, until the end, we remained fierce outliers.

The woman that started Chicagoist, and the woman I married that I met through Chicagoist.
So while I wish we could just regain control of Chicagoist (which I’m sure is a legal warren of tunnels we could never navigate) I’d ask this:

Separate your eulogies between DNA and the -ists. We were always two different entities, each with individual strengths (and, probably, weaknesses) but we weren’t the same. The only way we’re the same is we are all victims of the journalistic slaughter of late Thursday.

But hey. Phoenixes rise, right?

Tomorrow I'll get mushy, and talk about the history of Chicagoist, and the writers that made it great (and some of the obstacles the site encountered through over a decade in the digital landscape) but for today I had to share these initial thoughts. I hope that was OK with you.

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