Media Ride-Along Report –

5 Apr

Media Entrepreneur Ride-along Report

by Tyler Parks, Emily Burmaster and Rachel Rowan is a nonprofit community news site. Affiliated with Columbia College Chicago, “CT” is built on citizen and student-written journalism, reporting on issues around Chicago.

Barbara Iverson, the site’s co-founder and co-publisher, started ChicagoTalks in 2006 after working on the English version of OhmyNews, a Korean news site that allowed people to register and submit stories for publication.

Iverson got funding from Knight’s J-Lab and help from Columbia College professor Suzanne McBride. Six years after its launch, ChicagoTalks continues to publish the work of many community members and Columbia College students and faculty.

In an email, Iverson said the college’s journalism students generally publish at least one story per semester, while graduate students publish at least four stories per semester. Submission is open to anyone, though, and stories frequently come from nonprofit groups in the area.

To ensure the quality of published work, teachers edit student work and select particularly good stories to submit to ChicagoTalks. Editors look at all stories before they are published to the site, verifying information with writers by phone or online. The student editor is the only paid employee.

“We don’t pay our contributors, but we use a Creative Commons license and everyone gets attribution for their work and retains all rights,” Iverson said.

ChicagoTalks is funded by donations. On the site, visitors can donate via the Kachingle service. In the fall, the site will work with a class at Columbia College called Virtual Newsroom in which students will study search engine optimization and CT’s metrics in order to experiment with advertising and revenue models Iverson has been considering.

SEO is important to ChicagoTalks, but Iverson emphasized the value of solid newsgathering in light of the site’s “hyperlocal” focus.

“We will publish stories if we think that someone in the community will benefit,” Iverson said. “However, (the site’s student reporters) understand that their reputation is tied to stories they publish.”

To market itself, ChicagoTalks shares links to similar sites and asks those sites to “share back.” Students who work on the site are taught to use social networks to advertise stories. CT cross-publishes with other local sites like the Beachwood Reporter, and it worked with the Chicago News Cooperative before it folded. One of the site’s stories was even published in the New York Times.

Because trends point to mobile devices and tablets taking over as the “method of choice” for consuming journalism, Iverson said ChicagoTalks will continue distributing content without a print component. CT routinely adds video, audio and Storify pieces to its stories.

ChicagoTalks is one of the only organizations of its kind in Chicago, so it doesn’t have much competition. Iverson has been able to pursue a growth strategy at her leisure. Her latest project is a collaboration with a DePaul University reporting class, which will be expected to contribute to the site.


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