A few months after Chicago news specialist DNAinfo’s website was taken offline, Chicago journalists came together to form Block Club Chicago. The site is boosted by blockchain and supported by subscriptions.
The Kickstarter event for Block Club Chicago was launched at 8 a.m. ET, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Within 24 hours, the club had surpassed it $25,000 goal and by Thursday, they raised $116,047 from nearly 2,000 supporters.
Block Club Chicago will officially launch in April. The money raised will help to jump start the organization, however “the cash and cryptocurrency coming from the journalism-focused marketplace, Civil, is giving the club its legs.”
The director of strategy for the Block Club Chicago, Jen Sabella, said the journalists want to focus on neighborhoods and they wanted a membership model. Sabella was the deputy editor and social media director of DNAinfo Chicago.
We didn’t get to do it out way at DNA, at least on the business side. So we said, “Let’s just do it our way now.’
Matt Coolidge, co-founder of Civil said:
Our strategy since day one toward our goal of building a marketplace sustainable journalism is to introduce a guiding methodology… focused on local, investigative, and policy reporting. To tap into arguable the most respected network of journalists in America’s third largest city feels like a no-brainer in that sense.
The roots of Block Club Chicago come from the ashes of DNAinfo, which was comprised of reporters based in the neighborhoods of Chicago and New York. It was founded in 2009, by Joe Ricketts. He made his fortune through TD Ameritrade. Reporters were embedded in specific neighborhoods or groups of neighborhoods. Journalists built trust while reporting the news at a hyperlocal level overlooked by the larger news outlet.
DNAinfo was supported by online advertising. Ricketts was not interested in a membership-driven model and the site was shutdown. “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful it they are to endure.”
Sabella said people appreciated DNAinfo and did not want the hyperlocal news organization to go away. People offered to pay money to keep them afloat. They were also approached by venture capitalists and nonprofits that wanted to help keep the organization online.
One venture capitalist told DNAinfo that if three percent of their audience subscribed, the organization would have been “completely profitable.”
Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit newsroom that will draw on $5 reader subscriptions for sustainability. The Kickstarter money and Civil’s blockchain will provide posterity. The organization is also considering philanthropic funding for special projects and events for subscriber engagement and community building.
The blockchain will allow subscribers to contribute using whichever cryptocurrency they prefer, but it will give the newsroom a stake in the currency, which could possibly increase in value.
Civil also helps news organizations store their work in the blockchain technology. This technology is impenetrable to deletion. A great safety mechanism for journalists. It will not shut down unless somehow the internet is shut off. Previous DNAinfo work done by reporters hired by Block Club Chicago will be on the new website, because the union allowed writers to maintain ownership of their work.
Civil is looking to build 15 newsrooms, including Block Club Chicago, on their platform to launch in April. They hope to support 100-150 journalists. Civil has $1 million issued in grants that combine U.S. dollars and CVL tokens. Each newsroom will receive a portion of the grant money. Coolidge stated, “We’re going to be as good as the quality of journalists we can attract and sustain.”
Many readers of DNAinfo have not been frightened away by the blockchain aspect, they are excited about it. Civil CEO Matthew Iles said: “The extra fundraising is absolutely at the discretion of the newsroom. It won’t be necessary to do something through Kickstarter or an external funding apparatus. We think Civil will be the hub for all that kind of activity, once the platform launches in the spring.”
Sabella said DNAinfo audience support for Block Club Chicago has been incredible. She and her reporters are grateful for readers’ support. She appreciates the Civil support to keep the newsroom operational while they rebuild a subscription base and grow their audience.
Block Club Chicago has been able to hire five reporters with the initial funding from Civil. Four of the journalists came from DNAinfo and one reporter who has a strong South Side following. Four of them will be assigned to specific neighborhood groupings and one reporter will be a multimedia reported assigned to special projects.
The Block Club Chicago website will function like the existing platforms readers are used to. Readers will also be reached through email newsletters and social media.
By Jeanette Smith
Nieman Labs: DNAinfo Chicago will be reborn as Block Club Chicago, relying on blockchain and subscriptions instead of billionaires
Featured Image Courtesy of David Harmantas’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Top Image Courtesy of jeanbaptisteparis’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License