This is an abridged version of an article on the Medill Local News Initiative website at Northwestern University.
Chicago journalism is undergoing a dramatic restructuring that has turned the nation’s third-largest media market into a center for news experimentation.
While the city’s media have seen brutal job cuts in recent years, including a dramatic downsizing at the Chicago Tribune, a sense of rebirth and optimism prevails. Longtime observers talk about “an explosion of media” that makes it “more exciting than it’s ever been.”
The changes are attracting national attention, said Sue Cross, CEO and executive director of the Institute for Nonprofit News. “It’s important nationally and perhaps even globally because Chicago is a petri dish for the re-invention of news media,” Cross said.
A variety of journalism trends intersect in Chicago.
Nonprofit news is assuming a prominence once reserved for the city’s commercial outlets as the 175-year-old Tribune recedes and a public radio station, WBEZ, emerges as a rival for dominance in local reporting.
WBEZ has not only grown on its own but is finalizing a merger with the Chicago Sun-Times that represents a creative attempt to save a legacy newspaper.
The Better Government Association, a nearly century-old organization that conducts journalistic investigations, is taking on a much bigger mission by teaming with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation on a new $10 million journalism effort called the Illinois Solutions Partnership. A key aim is to replace the government oversight lost in the downsizing of legacy news outlets.
And startups are becoming upstarts.
The digital nonprofit Block Club Chicago is attracting national attention for its fresh approach to neighborhood news. Block Club and scores of other small news outlets have banded together in a new Chicago Independent Media Alliance that is led by the Chicago Reader, an alt-weekly that once was a cash cow, then fell on hard times and now is being reinvented as a nonprofit.
The transformed landscape is head-spinning to some Chicago news veterans, such as David Greising, a former Tribune columnist who is the BGA’s president and CEO.
“I think a lot of us who are still in it are just thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe all this cool stuff is going on,’ when you think of where our heads were all at five years ago,” Greising said. “It’s quite something.”
(Disclosure: The author of this story is a former editor at the Tribune and Sun-Times and has done freelance work for the Chicago Reader and BGA.)
In terms of scale, the
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