Audio interviews - by on Friday, April 3, 2009 15:41 - 3 Comments

Podcast: A beatblog as a place to experiment

parker_alexander_t170Alex Parker, formerly of the Lawrence Journal-World, is back with a new beatblog, this time covering public health news in Chicago.

In today’s podcast, Parker shares past lessons from his first beatblogging adventure and his vision for his new beatblog, Chicago Health Matters, at the new media start-up Chi-Town Daily News.

Parker said that one of the things he didn’t do well in the past on his previous beatblog, Schoolhouse Talk, was identifying and specifically engaging his audience.

“While we posed questions, hoping for interaction, sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t,” he said. “I think the most comments we ever had were on a post about an event called Meet at the Pole, where students meet at a flagpole to pray. There wasn’t much constructive dialogue.”

Engaging the audience will be a big part of Parker’s new beatblogging efforts. His blog is separate from Chi-Town Daily News, trying to build its own presence. The main site will get more typical news stories, while the beatblog will be more about building a community, starting discussions and filling in additional, often more minute details.

Parker wants his blog to be a backstory for stories that are published on Chi-Town Daily News and also be a place to post additional details, links and documents that might not make it into stories on the main site.

“I hope to write pieces that will give our audience new information about topics I cover,” Parker said. “Background, documents, the anatomy of a story: the things that make a story, but aren’t always included in them. I feel like we have a lot of latitude in what we can do. It’s a new experiment, and I hope people will enjoy what we post.”

Experimenting is also a big part of what Parker plans on doing on his beatblog. He is already producing news for the main site, so his beatblog doesn’t have to be relied on to break news. Rather he can use the beatblog to experiment with new forms of journalism, new ways of communicating with users and as a proving ground for new ideas that might eventually make their way onto Chi-Town Daily News.

“I kind see it as a partner with our main Web site and a place where we can experiment and play around with the Internet,” he said. “Even though we’re an online publication, there is a lot out there we haven’t taken advantage and this is the first step towards that.”

Chi-Town Daily News, for its part, is a non-profit journalism start-up that receives a third of its current funding from the Knight Foundation. It employees four full-time reporters, has seven full-time employees, four freelancers and an army of unpaid contributors. But it hopes to fill a niche by covering stories that the major news organizations in Chicago neglect or miss — specially public affairs stories.

“To cover issues that aren’t being covered very well or at all by other media outlets in Chicago,” Parker said of the mission of Chi-Town Daily News. “So that gives us an opportunity to fill a niche that other people aren’t covering and to really sell ourselves as the only people covering these important beats.”

As a non-profit, Chi-Town Daily News can’t afford to spend a lot of money experimenting. But experimenting doesn’t have to be expensive. Parker’s new beatblog is hosted for free by Blogger, and other fantastic blogging options like have free options as well.

Parker is also using Twitter to help build a community around his beat, and most of the people that he has friended on Twitter are people or organizations involved in health in Chicago. He quickly turned to Twitter to help build a network of knowledgeable sources, because that’s one of the things that Twitter excels with. Don’t expect the @Chicago_Health Twitter feed to just be links or some other boring, poor use of the medium.

“This isn’t going to just be a Twitter feed of whatever comes out of our blog, because that’s boring and that’s not how the Internet works, that’s not how online news works,” he said.

Eventually Parker would like to make the blog into more of a community blog, by allowing community members and decision makers to guest blog.

“I think that will create a real sense of community ownership,” he said. “This blog isn’t about me or the Daily News. It’s about the important issues facing Chicagoans.

Some additional topics discussed:

  • How will he decide which content makes sense on each platform?
  • How will he decide which stories go where?
  • Will he be using other social media around his beat?

Click here to stream the interview. Or download the MP3.

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  • Fernando

    Alex is a very smart, talented and insightful reporter. He understands the need to embrace technology in the process, not just delivery or reportage. It’s great to work with him. He is quickly becoming a must read in Chicago on the health beat. The new blog will only increase his reach.

  • Pam R

    I will be checking it out. Many times I am disappointed that a story is too short or does not offer the “background” details I am craving.

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About was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.