After Joe Ricketts shut down the local news sites DNAinfo suddenly three months ago, three former DNAinfo Chicago editors have announced they are kicking off Block Club Chicago.
According to a Chicago Tribune report, it is a nonprofit news site that will cover the city’s neighborhoods.
“As soon as DNA shut down, all these people started coming out of the woodwork wanting to help put it back together,” said a Block Club founder, Jen Sabella, to the Tribune. “People realized pretty quickly how much of a void there was after we left.”
According to the news outlet, within hours of DNAinfo shutting down – an online fund was created and money flowed in to buy drinks for the laid-off staffers while hundreds of readers and fellow journalists offered donations and best wishes.
“We had a ton of great feedback from readers throughout our five years at DNA,” Block Club founder Shamus Toomey said to the Tribune. “We just couldn’t stomach the idea of saying we’re done.”
Toomey was the managing editor at DNAinfo Chicago while Sabella served as deputy editor and director of social media – while Stephanie Lulay, the Block Club’s third founder, served as a senior editor, according to the news outlet.
At Block Club, Toomey will operate as editor-in-chief, with Sabella as director of strategy and Lulay as managing editor, the Tribune reports.
“I think there’s a lot of great journalism going on in Chicago right now, but DNA got down to the block-by-block neighborhood level,” Toomey said to the news outlet on Tuesday. “By boiling it down to the city borders, we were able to focus on the little stories that may not be a huge deal on the other side of town, but may be the biggest thing in a specific neighborhood. That’s where the void is — finding those stories and having the people on the ground looking for those stories. That’s what I hope we can return to Chicago journalism.”
According to the Tribune, Block Club is set up as a subscription-based, nonprofit model where readers can subscribe by the month or year with monthly subscriptions starting at just $4.99.
“We definitely wanted to make it a nonprofit,” Sabella said to the news outlet. “We think people feel better knowing their money’s going back into the work and not trying to make somebody rich.”
The group started a Kickstarter page and secured funding from a new platform that uses blockchain technology to sponsor hyperlocal newsrooms across the country, called Civil.
“We hope the foundations of Chicago that support community journalism will be interested in helping us out in some form, whether it’s sponsoring a particular neighborhood or just contributing to the cause,” Toomey said to the news outlet. “We want to be able to tell neighborhood stories and help the community as best we can that way.”
So far, according to the Tribune, the staff is made up of five full-time reporters: Kelly Bauer, Mauricio Pena, Alisa Hauser, Mina Bloom and Lee Edwards. Each of them coming from the DNAinfo Chicago pool except Edwards, who has written for The Chicago Defender, Chicago Crusader as well as the City Bureau.
“Reporters are living and working in neighborhoods,” Sabella said to the news outlet. “We don’t have them come into an office. Alisa works out of a furniture store on Milwaukee Avenue. She walks down the street, and everyone knows her. It’s exactly what we want — an old school, working-the-beat thing. That’s definitely not going to change.”
To watch the Kickstarter video below as well as donate to Block Chicago, scroll on.