The hyperlocal Chicago News Cooperative site, which supplies Chicago-area content to the New York Times, announced today it will suspend publication. The non-profit site was founded in 2009. It will stop production to reassess the situation on Feb. 26.
In a letter posted on the site, editor James O’Shea says:
Unlike similar start-up efforts like the Texas Tribune in Austin, the Bay Citizen inSan Francisco and ProPublica in New York, we never recruited the kind of seven figure donations from people of means concerned about the declining quality of news coverage around the country. As a result, CNC never raised the resources to make investments in the business side of our operation that would have generated the revenue we needed to achieve our original goal – a self-sustaining news operation within 5 years.
O’Shea leaves it open for the site to start publication again after reassessing not only its format and funding, but also its partnerships (including with the NYT). However, if it doesn’t pick itself back up or if it radically changes focus, it won’t be the first high-profile hyperlocal news venture to fail in recent years (see also: DC’s TBD.com). Then again, as he cited in his note, there are others out there seemingly staying above water. It’s possible the difficulty in DC or Chicago was really just saturation. While the journalism was quality and the potential audience wide, both cities are brimming with other news sources. I’d like to see such a homegrown project (i.e. not a corporate roll-out of “hyperlocal”) make a go in a smaller city with a weaker newspaper or a wider news ghetto.
Yes, tales like this are hard to read for people who believe in the importance of high-quality local journalism. It’s important not to dismiss the notion entirely. Really, we’re still in the infancy of online, non-profit news. While other formats fade, there’s going to be a bit of figuring it out, and to figure it out someone has to try it out. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”