Blog aggregation is not rocket science.
It does, however, require common sense.
And common sense would seem to scream: “STOP! DON’T DO IT” if someone suggested creating a stand-alone website made up of a bunch of largely anonymous writers with no organizing principle other than that the writers are all largely anonymous and all from Chicago.
But that’s what the Chicago Tribune’s highly touted “ChicagoNOW” is doing. No categories (well, there’s “recent posts”). Virtually no promotion on the Tribune site. No promotion in the print version of the Trib. No helpful editorial decisions indicating that a couple of blogs that day are really excellent.
Just look at the chaos passing for the main art on their home page:
Given that there is absolutely NO star power in the NAMES of the bloggers, the editors have to grab readers by the compelling nature of the promotional art and the headline. (Can you see the headlines? They’re that teeny type under the teeny photo…)
Let’s go left to right, starting with the “Diva Detour” sign. Not bad. Almost clearly Oprah. Good headline.
Next: A sign in Spanish with the scintillating, come-hither headline “Immigration Reform March.” Did these guys work for the Trib? That’s a snoozer reminiscent of the worst of MSM.
Next: A teddy bear smoking pot and a fun headline. OK, we’re recovering.
Next: I’m not sure WHAT that photo is. Supposedly a crowd at a Packer game. Could be modern art. I’ve never seen a worse photo crammed into such a small space with the intent of drawing me into a story.
Other than LaRussa, the rest of the photos and topics are confusing and completely uninteresting. (Gotta love the “Bloggers on the Food Network” pic — what ARE those guys doing? And that Emmy story fist: One of the worst cropping jobs ever!)
But, hey, you SHOULD be interested because a blogger you’ve never heard of from Chicago wrote these pieces! So click away!
The problem with the entire site goes back to its very premise: It’s a stand-alone site of no-name bloggers whose work is presented with no organizing concept and no context and, clearly, little effort by the editors to help harried readers find the very best stuff out there.
There’s nothing wrong with no-name bloggers (most of us ARE no-names!). And many write good stuff, including most of the NOW bloggers. But you have to give readers compelling reasons to dive into a particular post (great visuals and great headlines), and you have to organize the content in a way that makes it easy for readers to find what they want.
Let’s break it down:
1) Perhaps the biggest crime on ChicagoNOW is the almost complete lack of any connection whatsoever to the parent Tribune site or newspapers (Tribune, RedEye). On the Trib website, ChicagoNOW merits no more than a single promotion at the bottom of the home page and some teases on the sports page. Nothing in print.
Gee, that makes sense. Let’s launch a brand new risky venture and totally eschew these monster promotional vehicles we OWN that circulate to tens of thousands of readers in print and online every day.
That’s not smart or gutsy or entrepreneurial. It’s monumentally stupid. Put the stuff in the Tribune, on tribune.com and in RedEye in the context of the categories the bloggers are writing about!
When ESPN launched the “ESPN Chicago” website, they BRANDED it big time (note the first word in the title!). After just three months, they have already passed the Trib’s sports website by almost 150,000 uniques!
What’s ChicagoNOW doing after several months (their official launch was in August but they’ve been “live” for some time)? They are getting 59,000 monthly uniques according to ComCast. Maybe. So who’s the smarter company?
2) The second biggest crime is to throw all the content out there willy-nilly for time-harried readers to graze through. Sure, I have time to scan teeny photos or, worse, take a chance on the only proffered category (“Recent Posts”) to see if there is something worth reading.
People have passions (the Bears, Chicago indie bands, Chicago politics) and geographic interests (I live in X community and care about what happens there). How could the Chicago NOW editors have missed the memo about the decline of general interest publications? Put content in verticals that enable readers to find what they want in a hurry and make connections with authors and other readers who share their interests.
3) And, finally, the third crime is the editors’ incomprehensible fear of promoting the best posts, choosing instead to give every blogger their 15 seconds of fame. Instead of a most-popular list or an editor’s choices list (given their judgment, I’d worry about that one), they go with “Most Recent” and here’s the result on Sept. 7: Four of eight promos about Oprah, two sports haikus (sports haikus?!), and one compelling post entitled “Plaid Scarf!” Oh, boy, I’m going to read that one first!
Do you know the real tragedy? Their bloggers are good. Real good. But, despite the site’s traffic gains (hell, they started from zero so big percentage gains are almost inevitable), those writers are not getting the kind of attention they deserve.