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New media: Don’t quit your day job

Online news sites are proliferating in Chicago, but most rely heavily on unpaid bloggers and reporters, according to the New News 2010, the second annual survey produced by Community Media Workshop for the Community News Matters program of the Chicago Community Trust.

The news sites of mainstream media outlets dominate when it comes to traffic.  Out of 8.3 million visitors to 146 Chicagoland news and information sites in May 2010, 6 million were to sites associated with the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times.

While print circulation is down at local daily papers, traffic at their online news sites increased by 20 to 40 percent in the past year.  Paid circulation still far outnumbers online traffic, however.

Of 121 news and information sites surveyed for the report, 40 percent described themselves as blogs, and 36 percent as “niche news,” with smaller proportions self-describing as online news services, aggregators, and independent news organizations.

Sources of financing included advertising (37 percent) and “piggy-bank financing” (31 percent).  Other sites in the survey were sponsored by for-profit (25 percent) and nonprofit (17 percent) organizations; 15 percent reported drawing revenue from sales of goods and services or from donations, and 6 percent reported funding by subscriptions.

While the study shows a great deal of activity and interest, “we don’t know yet how this nascent online news ecosystem will be sustained,” said Thom Clark, president of Community Media Workshop.

“Despite the apparently large number of consumers of online information, it doesn’t appear there has been any explosion in the number of people actually earning a living producing this information,” he writes in the introduction to the report.

Some 40 percent of online news sites report that no one gets paid; 37 percent have one full-time staff person; 63 percent of sites report no one gets health insurance.

The report includes a listing of 146 online news sites in the Chicago area, including online-only operations and the sites of print and broadcast news organizations.

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