Chicago News Cooperative


Study: Smaller news websites depend more on social media for traffic than larger sites

In any local market, the dozens or hundreds of available news websites make up a news ecosystem.

In any real-life nature ecosystem — think of the food chain diagram you learned in 5th grade — the many species develop their own roles. They are all different, but also all interdependent.

The same is true for news websites in an ecosystem.

New research published today looks in-depth at those relationships in one sample market (Chicago) by analyzing and mapping the connections between more than 300 websites that make up the core of the ecosystem.

The study, conducted by Northwestern professor Rich Gordon and Syndio Social CEO Zachary Johnson and paid for by The Chicago Community Trust, over a two-week period examined all the links between 301 news websites and obtained analytics data about referral sources for about 100 of those sites.

Below are some of the interesting takeaways.

Social media matters, especially for small sites

Overall, the websites in the Chicago ecosystem got more than 23 percent of all their referrals from social media. Facebook drove 18.9 percent; Twitter 4.4 percent.

But social media’s share of referrals for any specific site varied greatly depending on its size. Small websites got more than half their referrals from social media, while the large sites got only about 19 percent from social.

Facebook referrals are extremely important to small news sites.

That was one of the most surprising findings, but there are a lot more in the study.

Particularly interesting is the researchers’ ability to map the link connections between the hundreds of websites and analyze the role each one plays in the ecosystem.

The graphic below, for instance, shows the tendency of certain groups of news websites to form clusters that are much more likely to link among themselves than to any other site. Each circle represents a website, each line represents links between them.

Color key: Red: Newcity sites; Green: Sun-Times sites; Yellow: Tribune sites; Blue: Patch sites; Purple: Other sites. The largest “other” sites are, clockwise from the top: Huffington Post, Gapers Block, Windy Citizen, The Expired Meter and Progress Illinois.

Ninety-two percent of Patch links went to other Patch sites. The same internal-linking bias was seen with 90 percent of Newcity site links, 82 percent of Tribune Co., site links and 80 percent of Sun-Times links.

“In the diagram,” the study says, “it is easy to see that groups of sites operated by New City, the Sun‐Times, Tribune Co., and Patch link heavily amongst themselves. There is even some clustering within these groups, such as with Patch, where it is split into two clusters for the northern suburbs and the western suburbs.”

“Authorities” vs. “Hubs”

Legacy sites like The Chicago Tribune and independent Web startups like Gapers Block play different roles, but both depend on the larger ecosystem.

The study used its data to map these relative roles. One role, for instance, is the authorities — the websites with the most inbound links from other websites. Most are the legacy media brands.

The Tribune is the news site most often linked to by other news sites in Chicago.

Then there are the hubs — the sites “that guide users to relevant information on other sites” through their outbound links. Here we see a different set of leading websites; the circle size represents the volume of outbound links.

The Huffington Post is the most prominent “hub” driving traffic to others.

Another class of websites serve as the main connections between the different clusters of websites and audiences. The study labels these the switchboards.

“Switchboards,” the study explains, “connect nodes that would otherwise not be connected at all — or, if removed from the network, would require users to make many more clicks to travel from one site to another site.”

The chart below shows how prominent switchboards tie the ecosystem together.

Nine of the top 10 switchboards also appeared among the top 10 authorities or hubs.

Small sites depend on the ecosystem

Overall, the websites in the Chicago news ecosystem received 8.5 percent of their total visits via referrals from other sites in the ecosystem. But, much like with social media, the ecosystem is much more important to the smaller members.

Large websites like the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times got just 2.2 percent of their visits from ecosystem referrals. Small and medium sites got 25 percent (11 times more) of their visits from other members.

In the big picture, the study shows connection and interdependence among the hundreds of websites in a local market. And it recommends that all publishers should link more often to other sites in their ecosystem.

“Sites that link out a lot also can get links back,” the study says. “At a national level, has demonstrated this — and Huffington Post Chicago has quickly become one of the most influential sites in the local market.” The site launched in 2008.

But clearly, these results show the power of networks is much more essential to the growth of the smaller websites than the larger ones. The big legacy brands may have other media products and may draw some national audience from outside the market.

For the local sites with a niche focus, it it extremely important they connect with the audience on social media and connect with their peer sites through links.

You an explore the data through an online dashboard the researchers created.

Related: Ranking Chicago’s online news sites
Read more


NYT partnership ‘sort of a halo & a cloud’ for independent news sites

Michael Depp examines the close, complicated relationship between The New York Times and three nonprofit news operations that provide local coverage for certain editions: Texas Tribune, The Bay Citizen and Chicago News Cooperative. While the partnerships have kickstarted the nonprofits’ operations and boosted their credibility, it’s tough to balance the Times’ need for content (they’re responsible for two pages, twice a week) with their own missions and editorial voices. The partners spend a lot more time on journalism for the Times than they get in licensing revenue, and they don’t get a cut of the money that the Times makes selling ads next to their stories. Times assistant national editor Jill Agostino sometimes has to fend off requests from within the Times for help on developing stories. “We can’t treat these groups as though they’re our stringers in these areas because they’re not,” she says. She compares working with the Times to “being married to a famous spouse”; Jim O’Shea of the Chicago News Cooperative says it’s “sort of a halo and a cloud at the same time.” Subscriptions have increased in the partner markets, Agostino says. Anyone tracking content partnerships like this will find the post thought-provoking. || Related: Sometimes Times editors should remain behind the scenes (Gawker) Read more


Editor: Stop trying to fool readers with vacuous, cheap content designed to justify ad stacks

Nieman Reports
Chicago News Cooperative editor-in-chief James O’Shea says journalists need to hit the streets and create something that people will actually pay for because it has value. “For decades we’ve relied almost exclusively on advertising revenue to subsidize the cost of news coverage,” he writes. “But I doubt that advertising will remain a reliable partner or source of revenue to provide the kind of resources needed to cover the news anymore.”

If we don’t figure out how to finance public service journalism, I fear the consequences. It is not as if the world of tomorrow will be one without news. We will have quality coverage, perhaps better than ever. But quality news will be for the wealthy—those who can afford to pay $2 a day or about $6 on Sunday for The New York Times or thousands of dollars a year for a subscription to one of Bloomberg’s targeted services.

O’Shea’s piece runs in the Summer 2011 Nieman Reports, along with essays by D. Parvaz (“Landing in Al Jazeera’s Vibrant Newsroom”); Bill Mitchell (“Focusing a New Kind of Journalism on a City’s Needs”); Alicia Shepard (“Online Comments: Dialogue or Diatribe?”); and many others.
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MacArthur Foundation media veep is ‘the most important woman in Chicago journalism’

Elspeth Revere — the MacArthur Foundation’s vice president for media, culture, and special initiatives — “puts serious money in serious hands,” writes Michael Miner. She’s approved $600,000 for the Center for Investigative Reporting; $750,000 for the Center for Public Integrity; $500,000 to ProPublica; and $1.2 million to Public Radio International. She tells Michael Miner:

One of the concerns is how journalism is going to be funded in the future now that it’s been unbundled from classified advertising and weather and movie reviews and sports scores and all those things you used to have to go to newspapers for. And when possibly promising projects come along, if they’re either national or local, we’re interested. Everybody’s trying to figure this out and nobody’s quite got the answer.

James O’Shea, whose Chicago News Cooperative, received a start-up grant of $500,000 from MacArthur and an equal grant a year later, says of Revere:

She’s tough, I’ll tell you that. She’s very businesslike, and she’s very direct with her questions, her comments, and her observations. Basically, you have to deliver for her. You can’t just think, ‘Well, I’m OK because she’s given me one grant.’ She’ll actually make you walk the walk. I have an enormous amount of respect for her.

* “Think you’ve got journalism’s next big idea? Get to know Elspeth Revere” [Chicago Reader] Read more


Political writer returns to Chicago Reader after eight months at Chicago News Coooperative

Chicago Reader
“I miss the extra real estate and space flexibility” at the Reader, says Mike Dumke. || July 15, 2010: Dumke is crossing the street.
Earlier: Chicago News Cooperative managing editor leaves after eight months Read more


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