I started to write this as a straight news piece, but I’m too closely tied to everything here. So let’s just recognize that I’ve got some personal feelings at stake here and get talking about what happened.
About sixty people came to the DANK Haus’ second floor yesterday evening to hear a presentation from me on the history and state of Center Square Journal and Roscoe View Journal and then to participate in a discussion on what comes next. The audience was tremendously varied, from folks in their early twenties to a few longtime neighborhood stalwarts, leaders from local chambers of commerce and neighborhood organizations as well as journalism professors from Columbia College and Northwestern University.
The meeting lasted about two hours.
Following my presentation, [there's a copy below] neighborhood-local Ryan Blitstein led a Q&A on the mechanics of Center Square Journal. Attendees got down to brass tacks quickly, as attendees wanted to know where potential new revenue might be to keep the publication going.
To put that issue in context: I figure that to keep CSJ’s operations rolling, we’ll need about $60,000 a year to pay for original reporting and other operations.
It was clear at this point that nobody in the room wanted CSJ to close. To drive the point home, Blitstein asked the group if anyone thought a shut down was the right option for the community. Nobody raised their hand.
However, the discussion really got rolling once Blitstein asked the group to suggest possible outcomes for CSJ. They were:
After about twenty minutes of group brainstorming, Blitstein then asked me to choose three suggestions that I really liked. I chose numbers 4, 7 and 8 because to me, they had the strongest potential to be carried out.
Then, Blitstein asked people to start volunteering to do things, which from my perspective was the most exciting. One person offered to run marketing. One person offered to put together a benefit music concert at Old Town. Another offered to run a neighborhood restaurant crawl benefit. Others volunteered to lobby their chambers of commerce and neighborhood organizations to financially support CSJ. Students from Northwestern’s journalism program offered to provide original reporting. About a dozen people volunteered to help in some way or another.
Here, Blitstein ended the meeting, asking attendees to think about how they would want to help, and to get in touch. And please do. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thinking back on the evening, it is clear to me that a significant portion of the community wants to support Center Square Journal, and an even larger portion of the community wants to keep reading. Considering that I started CSJ in 2010 without a clue about a news business really works, and no real journalism experience, the audience response was gratifying.
What comes next?
The truth is, I can’t work on CSJ full time any more, it has to become a side project, as I work to earn a real income for my family. So, if we’re going to move forward, CSJ is going to have to gain a lot more volunteers, and more importantly, one or two or three more people who want to make CSJ into their personal project and convert it into a new kind of, never-seen-before news entity.
I think operations can be sustained through a mix of relationships and sponsorships with other not-for-profits, news organizations and neighborhood groups, then gathering local donations from community members. But, a lot more neighbors and community leaders need to come forward and make specific time and funding commitments before I can be sure CSJ will keep moving forward.
If you want to make CSJ into your personal project, if you want to see neighborhood-based community journalism continue in Chicago, please speak up. Start by saying something in the comments below about what you want to do. (If you mentioned something to me at or after the meeting, please do it here again.) Then, email me and tell me what you want to do. We’ll need volunteer coordinators, people to solicit local businesses and neighborhood groups and of course, more ideas on how to reach the community. You can also email me if you want to talk directly.
I’ll collect the best ideas from the comments along with the most enthusiastic volunteers and make another report back to you here in a week. But if I don’t hear from enough people, or the response is tepid, I’ll report that back too. If CSJ is going to move forward, it’s going to need a community effort.
Thank you for being a part of this process. It’s wonderful to see so much community spirit in my hometown.