Tuesday, November 07, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part two.

The Wrens in 2009, photo by me
From our earliest years other periodicals constantly wrote Chicagoist off as a "news aggregation" site.* And then couldn't figure out how we kept slowly and steadily growing. But we were never a news aggregator at our core. Sure, we commented on the news of the day, but that was more a series of op ed pieces with sharp and intelligent voices.

But competitors missed the secret sauce our fans were already devouring.

Chicagoist dished out arts and food news in a way that broadened horizons while remaining palatable to the uninitiated. I don't think think it's a fluke at all that the majority of our editors-in-chief came from the background of writing about food or the arts for the site. People don't become a fan of a site for covering recent shootings or a sensational city council fracas or a sports star's alleged indiscretions; they do it because the writers and what they have to say can have an influence on the things that drive them day to day; the things they love; the things that make them feel.

And Chicagoist was the best at doing that in the city. We didn't make you feel dumb about what you didn't know, we made you feel like you had all kinds of new discoveries ahead of you and we were your guide as you traversed new territories. In Chicagoist's golden ages, we were the voice of the city to so, so many people. Many sites attempted this trick but none replicated it.

Sure, we were snarky, and could sound jaded, at times, but we were always on your side. We taught but we didn't lecture. We guided without preaching. We were one of the only places—anywhere—that would tell you about bands you would actually see without already being a fan, and convince you to try out food without the imprimatur of the bougie bent of most foodie sites.

We told you the truth. So you trusted us. And you were rewarded. And we were triply rewarded because there is nothing better than helping someone make a discovery that truly affects** them.

And we rewarded close reads. I won't repeat all the inside jokes, but there were days hundreds of readers got them and teased us for them. Because we were a community.

One Great Sandwich: PB&J from 2009
Maybe that's the thing. For much of our run we were a community. You came to us because we were family, albeit family in the way your older sibling is like, "dude, you need to know this." And sometimes you fought with us, and we swiped back; but we were all in it together.

Yes, that changed. As "new media" shifted we started to as well. We started to lose that community, but we never completely lost it (and I would argue since last July we had come a long way to bringing the "old" Chicagoist spirit back to the site after a year of turbulence that even the readers noticed, but readers not driven by Facebook algorithms were returning in greater and greater numbers—quality readership was back).

Watcha Wearin' fashion entry, 2009
Even when we were acquired, it was made plain our strengths were in arts and entertainment and food writing, because no one else was doing it as engagingly as we were on a regular basis. And, this is a story for a later installment, but I did try to leave the site at a point where I thought that kind of coverage was no longer being appreciated. But I was convinced to stay because the powers that be, despite what opponents to that thinking at the time might have believed, were certain that the arts and entertainment and food coverage were the soul of the site.

The reason you are hurting, and I am most certainly hurting, now, is because no one else in Chicago  fed your heart and your belly like we did. And both will feel empty now.

Tomorrow, "bands are not your friends", AP vs. Chicago Manual of Style, and the beginning but certainly not the end of my gushing about the people I worked with.

*Worth noting, we never, as a whole, ever indulged in that competitiveness that breeds discord among many local writing tribes. Did we have spats? Sure. But aside from a playful rivalry with someone like Gapers Block in our earliest days—which, by the way, had anyone noticed, also included us doing shows together, and DJing together, and supporting each other's events which should really tell you al you need to know about how serious even that "rivalry" was—nope.

**I've written professionally for close to 3 decades and I am still always unsure whether I'm using the correct affect vs. effect thing. But hey, that fallibility can be endearing, right? RIGHT?

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