CNC Is About to Show Us a New Home Page

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Jim OShea
  • Jim O'Shea
Next Tuesday the Chicago News Cooperative stops promising and starts delivering.

"Coming soon: An innovative news site dedicated to building communities through quality journalism," its website asserts. It used to assert, "Coming in 2010: An innovative news site dedicated to building communities through quality journalism. But after a while it wasn't 2010 any longer.

The new managing editor, Jim Kirk, told me last May a "more aggressive web presence" was his "first order of business." When I checked back in January, Kirk told me it was a few weeks off. A month later Kirk resigned, the site still no more than a gleam in his eye.

But last week CNC's founder and editor, Jim O'Shea, invited me over to his (surprising spacious) offices on East Lake Street and gave me a look at the transformed site that CNC will roll out on Tuesday. The present site is a bore. The new site looks and feels much busier and newsier. There's a link to the website of the New York Times — the partner paper to which CNC provides four pages of Chicago news a week. There are links to top stories by other Chicago media. Despite those, the new CNC site is self-assertive in a way a lot of aggregating sites are not. The backbone of the CNC site will be its own report.

"We're trying to save the reader time," says managing editor David Greising. "If readers get their news on this site, they'll learn all they need to know."

What the new site does not do is fulfill the promises of innovation and community building that have been central to O'Shea's ambitions from the beginning. These communities will carry CNC into the realm of premium content protected by pay walls. The first community that CNC intends to spotlight is education, and O'shea hopes he can get that package online by the start of school in September. He asked me not to describe the proprietary materials he let me see, but I will say I think they're pretty impressive.

On another front, O'Shea told me that CNC and WBEZ are breaking new ground by jointly hiring a reporter to cover Springfield. The reporter is Kristen McQueary of the SouthtownStarr, who'll start April 26. "I'll be filing for both websites at the same time and then developing different pieces for both of them based on their needs," she tells me. "A lot of the sharing has yet to be determined. It's an experiment for both." Her understanding is that WBEZ will cut the paycheck, but the money to hire her has been put up by the Joyce Foundation.

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