Monday, March 1, 2010

Mike Doyle Tells ChicagoNow Never Again

Posted By on 03.01.10 at 06:12 PM

Blogger Mike Doyle's just parted company with ChicagoNow, and Monday, on his own blog, Chicago Carless, he says why. Doyle calls the blog smorgasbord the Tribune launched last year perversely hard to navigate and says it was designed to serve the paper's interests, not the bloggers'. "ChicagoNow is a blog platform that simply wasn’t designed with bloggers in mind," Doyle writes, and at fiery and entertaining length he explains how.

"I was offered the same rate as other bloggers: $5 per 1,000 local page views," Doyle tells us. "Curiously, many of my ChicagoNow posts generated healthy national page views. That’s no help in the Tribune’s financial worldview. Although most bloggers would benefit from the platform-enhancing exposure of a national readership, the Trib makes its money from local ad revenue. Instead, ChicagoNow’s compensation scheme is aimed at disincentivizing national readership. In essence, the Tribune demands that its bloggers ignore the growth potential of their own brands while expecting them to help bolster the Trib’s brand. I’m left wondering: who woke up one day and decided to create a blog platform seemingly designed to make it as hard as possible to be an effective blogger?"

I don't hang out much at ChicagoNow, but I've dropped in often enough to have noticed how hard it is to get around in. "Bloggers were told that by allying with ChicagoNow they would reap the benefits of a fertile online platform with a limitless ability to grow. In reality, they just ended up pulling the plow," Doyle writes. "I don’t think the needs of bloggers were ever truly considered when ChicagoNow was originally planned out. I don’t think they have been taken seriously in the months since the network debuted. And I fear they never will be."

For instance: "I was just told to try harder, as if good writing and focused SEO [search engine optimization] can make up for a lack of a useful navigation strategy." And...

"Last summer a TweetMeme button was installed on all ChicagoNow blogs. Developers didn’t ask bloggers for their personal Twitter details first. Instead, they left TweetMeme’s default settings unaltered. As a result, thousands of retweets of ChicagoNow articles went out across Twitter that all pointed back to TweetMeme’s corporate account instead of the Twitter accounts of the bloggers who had written the retweeted posts, eliminating any possibility for bloggers to build new social-media relationships with readers. I was responsible for pointing out the problem to ChicagoNow staff. Unfortunately, although the TweetMeme rollout took place in a morning, it took days to actually fix the problem. The delay was caused by ChicagoNow's contracted developers being beholden to other clients. Making matters worse, after the problem was fixed, every time a global site rebuild took place, TweetMeme would revert to the default settings once again."

Bill Adee, who calls himself ChicagoNow's "blog scout" but also answers to the much more corporate title of vice president for digital, doesn't particularly quarrel with what Doyle had to say. "Mike's post today shows why we wanted him on ChicagoNow," Adee tells me. "He's a true blogger -- a shit disturber. He makes great points in there about the navigation. I agree it should be better and we're working to address it. But most of the traffic is to the individual blogs -- it's people going to a blog they like and sticking with it. So it wasn't from our standpoint a fatal problem." But, says Adee, it's a problem he's working on.

As for Doyle, "I thought he was extremely valuable to have on the site," Adee says, "and we would have been happy to have Mike continue." But only at the standard rate of $5 per 1,000 local page views, which was less than Doyle started out at ten months ago and less than he was willing to accept.

Adee tells me ChicagoNow has 220 or so bloggers, more than ever before, despite attrition that runs at about 10 percent. According to Doyle, ChicagoNow is "moving away from a niche blogging strategy and towards a 'community news' model, creating new neighborhood blogs to provide more 'granular' local news."

Community news was always the goal, says Adee, but ChicagoNow needed to grow fast, and he believed provocative voices like Doyle's would accomplish that and community news wouldn't. But now that ChicagoNow has grown from 0 pageviews a month to 13 million, and to 1.3 to 1.5 million unique visitors a month, Adee figures it's time for phase two.

Doyle is by all means the shit disturber Adee describes him as. He digresses from ripping ChicagoNow to single out Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin for "writing a three-page angry letter to ChicagoNow management [and] yelling at me over the phone for 10 minutes" over something Doyle wrote that Kamin didn't like, and he goes on to say, "it’s safe to assume he’s not the only asshole in the newsroom." (Kamin has no comment. Adee tells me that he, himself, is somehow at fault for the blowup, for not making it clear to the newsroom who the bloggers were and what they'd been hired to do.)

As far as Doyle's concerned, bloggers and MSM reporters occupy two separate and antagonistic worlds. Last September he wrote on his Chicago Carless site that I'd just "committed a despicable act unworthy of a journalist." My sin was passing along a suggestion that the Sun-Times might fare better with fewer columnists [i.e., commentators with opinions, such as himself] and more reporters. And on his ChicagoNow blog he wrote that my "surprising" admission that I read the print version of the Chicago dailies "immediately undercut" my "contemporary credibility" for him.

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