ChicagoNow is a new media venture by the Tribune Co. that is taking established bloggers in the Chicago area and bringing them in under one umbrella.Russo’s work will be appearing on both Catalyst, his sponsor for about two years and ChicagoNow. ChicagoNow has been doing non-exclusive deals with bloggers as a way to keep costs down.
By being non-exclusive, ChicagoNow pays bloggers less, but this also gives bloggers the freedom to repost their work on other networks or on their own personal blogs. ChicagoNow is bringing together established bloggers under one umbrella with the hope of being able to deliver more visitors and a bigger community.
For now, Russo is trying to keep the content the same between the two sites, but he is not ruling out unique content appearing on either ChicagoNow or Catalyst. In many ways this is new territory for Russo. Catalyst is a non-profit and their expectations for District 299 are much different than the for-profit ChicagoNow.
Russo will be spending more time thinking about SEO and ROI. His work will not only have to have educational value but also monetary value.
ChicagoNow is an aggressive, HuffingtonPost-esque network of bloggers. So, what would they want with an education blogger? ChicagoNow is moving into some more news-oriented territory to augment their entertainment-focused blogs.
“I think the second-wave of ChicagoNow blogs is going to be more serious,” Russo said. “I think they are moving to balance things out. They are trying to balance both what needs talking about with what people want to talk about.”
District 299, however, would appear a better fit for ChicagoNow than Catalyst anyway. Russo has always been an aggressive, opinionated, fast moving blogger. Russo’s approach has always seemed at odds with Catalyst’s staid mission, “To improve the education of all children through authoritative journalism and leadership of a constructive dialogue among students, parents, educators, community leaders and policy makers.”
“Catalyst and District 299 have always been — stylistically and substantively — very different,” Russo said. “It was a big stretch for them to take me on in the first place.”
But Russo, a Spencer Fellow at Columbia University, is very passionate about education reform and is very good at fostering conversations about education. So while stylistically, Russo’s work is much different than the rest of what appears in Catalyst’s publications, what he is trying to accomplish fits right in with Catalyst’s mission.
So while it may seem paradoxical that Russo’s work would fit in on a both a serious education site and an aggressive new media site, it’s really more a testament to how Russo is able to take a serious topic and make it interesting and conversational. Ultimately, ChicagoNow wants to be “an online town square for the Chicago of right now.”
The one thing that Russo’s District 299 has always excelled at is being a place for people to have conversations.
We also discuss in this week’s podcast:
- Will District 299 change now that it has a new backer?
- Why will Russo be doing more link journalism and curation now? Why do readers like curation?
- How will District 299 become more hyperlocal, focusing on individual schools?
Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at the Education Writers Association conference.
For a more in-depth quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices, check out my post: BCNI Philly: Why beatblog? (and why news should be social)
Best networks for education reporters
- Facebook — Facebook is a no brainer. It originally started as a social network just for college students, then added high school students and now has expanded to allow everyone to join. You’ll find a much higher concentration of college students in particular on Facebook than you will on MySpace. Even many teachers, professors and administrators are joining Facebook these days. It’s the perfect network to find education-related people to interview and even find stories. Every education reporter should at least have a presence on Facebook.
- Twitter — Twitter is a great social network for almost any journalist. In particular, it’s a great tool for crowdsourcing, asking questions and monitoring trends. Check out our screencast on how to use Twitter for reporting and our other screencast on how to use search.twitter.com.
Education beatbloggers to follow
- Tawnell Hobbs/Kent Fischer | DISD Blog — The DISD blog won this year’s EWA award for best multimedia education blog and for good reason. It has been the gold standard for education beatblogs the past 1-2 years. Here are just a few of the lessons you can learn from the DISD blog: Fischer’s readers helped him uncover an A1 story, hoisting comments to build a better community, live blogging to help form a closer connection with readers, providing a public service for readers, etc, etc, etc.
- Alexander Russo | District 299 Blog — Russo has a different kind of beatblog. He centers his blog around “hosting the conversation.” The District 299 is a place where people in Chicago can go to discuss education and the Chicago school district. Russo does original reporting, linking to others content and conversation starting.
- Gotham Schools — This non-profit, new media startup is one to watch. They don’t have an institutional memory and aren’t beholden to how things “used to be.” Instead, they can concentrate on transforming education reporting. We’re big fans of their daily link journalism post too.
- Khristopher Brooks — Brooks use of Facebook is one to emulate. He convinced the University of Nebraska to give him a nebraska.edu e-mail address. This allows him to see most students on the Nebraska Facebook network. Brooks does not grab students profile information without prior permission, however, and he mostly uses Facebook to find students who are studying certain majors or taking certain classes. If Brooks is doing a story where he needs to talk to a student about a controversial class, for instance, he can search the Nebraska Facebook network for students in that class, contact them and get interviews. He essentially uses Facebook as a phone book on steroids. Listen to Brooks discuss how Facebook has made his job much easier.
- Be transparent and accessible — Brooks is extremely accessible for Nebraska students because he has put himself on Facebook. If students want to contact him about an issue at Nebraska that he may not know about, they can easily do so via Facebook. It takes far less work on their part to send him a private message via Facebook than it does to hunt down his e-mail address or phone number. The easier you make it for people to contact you, the more likely it is that they will contact you. Get on multiple social networks (with your real name), put a bio and about page on your blog and make sure you have contact info on your blog.
- Be social — This could be as simple as being active in the comments section after stories and blog posts. It also means being an active participant on social networks. If you’re on Twitter, just don’t ask people questions, but answer their questions too. Be social and get to know people. Social media is all about being social. The old way of doing journalism was one-way communication, but today it’s all about two-way communication. Be a part of a conversation.
- Cultivate a community — Being social is the first part of cultivating a community. If you’re lucky enough to be given your own blog, use it to its fullest potential. A blog is a fantastic place to cultivate a community of knowledgeable sources that will send you tips, links and documents. Monica Guzman is the master community cultivator and is someone worth following for ideas on how to build a community.
Alexander Russo is not a journalist by trade and doesn’t work for a traditional news organization.
He’s just runs two independent blogs. So, forgive him if he seems to break some of the conventions of journalism. He does things the way he does because that’s what he thinks his readers want, not what he learned in j-school years ago.
He originally had a national blog, This Week in Education, that he began using to report on Chicago school news. Eventually he realized, however, that national readers didn’t care about Chicago school issues and Chicago readers didn’t care about national issues. The most logical solution was to split the blog in two.
Thus, District 299 was born. Like many bloggers, Russo started the blog because there was a niche to be filled. Specifically, he thought coverage and conversation about the Chicago Public Schools was sorely lacking.
“I was in in Chicago, and I thought the Chicago schools were an interesting, if dysfunctional world, that wasn’t getting much attention,” he said. “Basically, I was trying to create a place to track what was going on in CPS — Chicago Public Schools — and other people who were in the system or who were curious about the system could add their two cents or share what was going on their school.”
Neither blog is independent anymore. Russo’s District 299 blog was brought under the umbrella of Catalyst-Chicago, which is dedicated to school reform. This Week in Education is now sponsored by Scholastic.
Russo is also a Spencer Fellow at Columbia University, studying education reporting. He understands his beat better than most journalists, because, in many ways, he is an expert on education. Russo has crafted a popular meeting place — a virtual water cooler — where people come to discuss issues.
Russo doesn’t say District 299 is his blog where he owns the conversation or that he is the No. 1 source for news on the Chicago school district. Rather, he says his blog is “hosted by journalist Alexander Russo, District 299: The Chicago Schools Blog is a 24/7 gathering place for Chicago education news, official and otherwise.”
The concept of his blog centers around him as a host for conversation and ideas. He puts ideas out there and lets others run with them.
“I feel like the gym teacher from back in the day whose idea of gym class was to roll out the basketballs and let people play,” he said. “I feel like I provide the space, I provide some of the equipment or the content and I sit and read the newspapers and look up when someone starts crying or asking for my attention.”
He said he has learned as much, if not more, about Chicago Public Schools from his blog than he did when he covered the schools as a freelance journalist, because now he has people within the district regularly sharing their thoughts and knowledge.
“There are so many people out there with so many interesting, first-hand experiences,” he said. “They don’t want to run a blog; they don’t have the time; they are leading their lives but they want to say, ‘here is what happened today at school.’ I love reading that stuff.”
The vast majority of what is on the District 299 blog is not what Russo’s thinks or knows, he said. It’s about what other people think and know. That’s the concept of “hosted by.”
“The blog is very much focused outwards, towards readers,” he said. “It’s not all about Alexander. It’s not all about much of my opinions. I’m just trying to create this nice, convenient place for people to vent or share their thoughts or break news.”
This week’s Leaderboard features a new media outlet, a traditional media outlet and an independent blogger with a sponsor.
They are all pushing the practice.
Innovation is not the sole province of big organizations with lots of resources. Some of the best, most innovative journalism is being done by people at non-traditional organizations. There are new media news organizations popping up all the time, and if traditional news outlets aren’t careful, these new outlets will eat their lunch.
But rather than fighting each other, we can learn and figure out best practices.
It is worth noting that our Leaderboard winner this week from a traditional media outlet is at a newspaper with less than 100,000 daily circulation. Size and age don’t matter when it comes to innovation.
Alexander Russo | District 299
- Russo’s blog, District 299, covers education much differently than a newspaper beat reporter would. Instead of District 299 being a place where Russo talks at people and reports in a one-way style, District 299 is a place to have conversations. It’s a place to discuss how to make education better in Chicago.
- Russo brings a different concept to beat blogging. He says his blog is “hosted by Alexander Russo.” By that, he means he has created a space to get people talking about education issues in Chicago.
- If the Chicago school district releases a press releases about school closings, Russo would throw the press release up on his blog in its entirety for users to read, rather than summarizing it like a newspaper reporter would. Russo’s goal is not to make the press release his own, but rather to get it up on his blog to get people discussing the contents of it.
- Russo’s blog is a gateway to all things Chicago schools related. The best way to make his platform the destination to be for discussion of issues surrounding Chicago schools is to link heavily to other people’s content.
- Many traditional journalists are so focused on producing content that they don’t take any time to create a quality space for people to discuss issues. Russo, a Spencer Fellow at Columbia University, is interested in more than just covering education — he wants to help create change. He is not a dispassionate spectator like most newspaper journalists aim to be and instead uses his blog to get people talking about ways to improve the under-performing Chicago school district.
Philissa Cramer | GothamSchools
- Rise and Shine is a daily link journalism post that sets the agenda each day for GothamSchools. GothamSchools is a new media operation that wants to be an online community for discussion about New York City Schools. That would be impossible if GothamSchools didn’t link out. Rather, GothamSchools offers a blend of original reporting and curation.
- GothamSchools has a similar mission as Russo. It wants to be more than just a news outlet. It wants to be a place for serious discussion, and it wants to help make education better in New York.
- From the about page, ” … a news source and online community for teachers, parents, policy makers, and journalists interested in learning about what works and what doesn’t in NYC schools. We seek to provide a clearinghouse for school news and commentary, connect teachers and parents with resources, highlight effective practices in policy and pedagogy, and build a participatory knowledge base about education in New York City. By offering a critical eye on education research and reporting, and by creating a forum for conversation, GothamSchools is helping New Yorkers create better schools.”
Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle
- Ron Sylvester has been reinventing court coverage with Twitter. Follow along as he tweets live updates from a trial of six accused gang members. Sylvester’s tweets what is happening during the trial with succinct 140-character bites. He also provides insight into the trial itself.
- We have chronicled Sylvester’s efforts before, but he continues to refine his coverage. Sylvester is using social media and his blog to transform how newspapers cover trials. No longer is Sylvester being beaten by broadcast media. Instead, his live updates from the court room beat everyone. And unlike live TV coverage of a trial, which can be overwhelming, Sylvester’s 140-character tidbits make following a trial very easy.
- Sylvester’s Twitter use also proves that Twitter can be a valuable tool for journalists in less-populated, less-tech savvy areas. Many of the people that follow Sylvester’s court room tweets are not on Twitter. They’re not that interested in Twitter itself, but they are really interested in the content that Sylvester produces on it. These people either follow along on Sylvester’s Twitter page or on blog where his tweets are embedded.