Since journalism’s going digital, there must be advantages to a new medium that’s digital from the ground up. Testing this proposition, which has held up pretty well in New York City, DNAinfo.com on Monday launched its Chicago operation. Front and center on the new website was its first scoop: half a million dollars has mysteriously disappeared from former county board president Todd Stroger’s reelection fund. The scoop was dug up by DNAinfo’s new man in City Hall, Ted Cox. You might remember Cox from his years writing sports for the Reader. That sideline came to a halt when DNAinfo signed him on: it doesn’t share its staff writers.
Publish a new daily or magazine and display it at a newsstand, and it will look the passing consumer in the eye. A new website has a serious hurdle to surmount: there’s no tangible evidence it exists. Scoops prime word-of-mouth. So does day-in, day-out reporting on a compelling local story that is a little smarter and quicker than the opposition’s—which is how DNAinfo likes to talk about its New York coverage of Hurricane Sandy.
Here’s an example of DNAinfo’s Sandy reporting being cited by other media—in this case Salon. The Sun-Times picked up Cox’s Stroger scoop Tuesday morning, but skipped the credit. The Sun-Times might be a little miffed. DNAinfo took away Mark Konkol; it took away senior editor Dave Newbart, who’d been an assistant city editor at the Sun-Times. And on Tuesday DNAinfo announced that it had finally hired a managing editor—Shamus Toomey, who’d been the Sun-Times‘s metro editor.
Sheer professionalism also slowly but surely gets people’s attention. On the basis of a couple of conversations I’ve just had with DNAinfo representatives, I’d say professionalism is the ace in the hole they’re counting on in Chicago.