I’ve mentioned before the difficulty I have in deciding what to blog about here and what to blog about at TOC. My TOC blog post on Huffington Post Chicago – or as I’ve been calling it ChuffPo – could have gone either way. But the gist of that post ended up directed not so much at ChuffPo, but at the whole of the arts and entertainment press and their blogger brethren. In our quest for page views or cover lines, we’re missing some things, or letting publicists dictate our coverage. So we – the experts – are missing the city that exists all around us, and running the risk of someone else acquiring the mantle of the most informed.
Which brings me back to a few lingering thoughts on ChuffPo…
Granted, it’s only a few days in, but I’m not really sure what the site has to offer. As I allude to in the TOC post, most of the content on the site consists of links to stories you’d see in many other places. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing that distinguishes that content. Even Gapers Block‘s Merge section, which offers a quick to-the-point glance at big headlines of the day, still manages to do so with a certain style and voice.
Yes, it has some celebrity bloggers you might not find elsewhere. Unfortunately, none of them have had much to say (really, John Cusack, that’s all you got in you?). And the true Chicago voices in the mix have…well, if I want to read or hear what they have to say, I can go elsewhere, as most of them have columns, features or work in other places.
Speaking of HuffPo contributors, Steve Rhodes at The Beachwood Reporter raised an issue last week (2nd to last item) about the site’s lack of monetary compensation that’s been on my mind as of late, ever since a Gawker post on the same subject: If people are going to write for you – and you’re making money off them – you ought to be paying them. Rhodes has a point, to an extent, particularly about the lunacy of helping a competing business for free. But magazines – and newspapers – utilize unpaid talent (we call ’em interns) all the time. In fact, they depend on them. And those who excel in this grindhouse boot camp are often placed at the front of the line when there are jobs to be had at those same publications.
Disclosure time: I used to blog at Chicagoist, and while there was some monetary incentive for going above and beyond, I gave it away for free during most of my 2 1/4 year stint there (not to mention the work I did for our Ctrl-Alt-Rock events that were for the promotion of the site/brand). But all that free labor directly led to paid freelancing work, and is largely responsible for me having a job at TOC. So it’d be ridiculous of me to suggest that free labor in this environment is unethical (a Gawker blog commenting on fair labor practices would seem problematic as well, but nevermind). And since most of the critics in a TOC roundtable back in January said they’d still be doing what they do even if they had to do it for free, who am I to criticize?
It’s fine for these folks to look for more exposure (and some of the print scribes probably see it as I saw Chicagoist – as a door to more work down the line). But the whole thing has a very arm’s length feel to it right now, a sort of best-of compendium that has yet to present a real view of the city. And frankly I worry that its east coast pedigree will give it the bona fides that it hasn’t earned (especially since according to Ferdy, it can dish it out but has trouble taking it).
Consider the following:
“With all its unfair built-in advantages, Huffington Post Chicago could actually help push one or even both of Chicago’s daily newspapers — both struggling mightily for different reasons — right to the brink of extinction. And if that happened, HPC would ultimately be shooting itself in the foot. If the Chicago Tribune disappeared, so would half of the actual news the Huffington Post now highlights.” – Will Bunch; Philly.com
To be fair, ChuffPo is blogging about stories from all over. And since sites like ChuffPo actually funnel traffic to newspaper sites, I’m not really sure how Bunch’s point follows. Besides, a site like ChuffPo ought to be filling in the blanks – particularly with content like this nightmarish account of one person’s stay at Swedish Covenant Hospital – not trying to do what a daily does. That’s now how it will become a source of real power.
Maybe Bunch just wanted to get quoted on Romenesko, and that’s why he said something so ludicrous. In fact, in the next paragraph he turns around and says that dailies and ChuffPo need each other. So there you go.
And that’s what I mean about the view from a distance. If Bunch knew anything about Chicago, he’d know the Tribune isn’t in any immediate danger of disappearing (even if some of its great talentis). The Sun-Times is doing a fine job of killing itself, with no help needed from ChuffPo or anyone else.