To succeed in the highly competitive Chicago local media market - hometown of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) - the liberal-leaning Huffington Post must do more than rely on its political coverage and focus on building a comprehensive local news presence, media experts say.
To build a loyal following, the widely popular blog must demonstrate an intricate understanding of the issues facing people who live and work in the Windy City, says Ryan Thornburg, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
"I think the biggest challenge for any local Web site is to be relevant to its readers and to define local in the right way. As communities get more mobile, and we work in one place and live in another, one of the real challenges is to capture the sense of where people live," he says. "Chicago has a great history of a lot of good neighborhood journalism."
The Huffington Post will launch a Chicago version of its Web site by August, according to media reports. The Chicago site, scheduled to be the first of about a dozen city-specific sites, will initially be staffed by a single editor, founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington told attendees of a UK media conference last week, reports also state.
"We are aspiring to be a newspaper in that we want to [be] covering all news, not just the political blogging the way we began," she said, in comments reported by the Guardian. "[Political editor] Tom Edsall has been mentoring a small team of young reporters who have done a great job breaking news through the election cycle. We are working on our third round of financing and a lot of money raised will go to expanding that reporting team."
The Huffington Post lists Ben Goldberger as its Chicago editor. A spokesman for the Web site did not return PRWeek's inquiries seeking comment.
The Huffington Post's plan for creating localized Web sites will ultimately be perceived as a success if it spreads to other cities and produces a critical mass of interest, says Staci D. Kramer, co-editor of paidContent.org, who adds that the Web site must also differentiate itself from its various competitors to maintain a strong readership after the November presidential election.
"It'll work best in areas with very active political environments, and one of the big ifs for this, and a lot of other sites that rely on politics as their lifeblood, is the question of how much can they rely on [visitors] to stick around after the election," she explains. "Chicago is a dense area, and that makes it a good place and a bad place to try something like this... it has multiple newspapers, broadcast outlets, and online organizations, and that makes it a fertile ground for a lot of coverage. [As] an aggregator, it has to come in and be fresh and new, and [be] something no one there has seen before."
The Huffington Post's more than three years of political reporting and commentary experience could give it an advantage in Chicago. The city, famous for the raucous 1968 Democratic National Convention and its political-machine era politics, follows the political arena like few others, says Margaret Lyons, editor of Chicagoist.com.
"The way that people in other cities talk about media or sports is the way that people in Chicago talk about politics," she says. "Everyone knows [his or her] ward, and if [he or she] moves, [he or she] might say, 'I don't know if I want this person to be my alderman.'... That sort of local politics is... distinct to Chicago. It's certainly not present in New York, where most people can't name their city councilperson."