Posts Tagged ‘Catalyst’

Podcast: Russo bringing District 299 to Tribune’s ChicagoNow

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 16:57 - by


ChicagoNow, the loose collection of Chicago-focused beatblogs, has picked up Alexander Russo’s District 299 beatblog.

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?

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

About BeatBlogging.Org 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.