The Chicago Independent Media Alliance, a project of the Chicago Reader, is a partnership of independent, local, and community-driven media entities coming together in the spirit of collaboration, especially on creating new revenue.

As we watch legacy newsrooms shrink and startup ventures fold, we know changing business models as a single entity isn’t the only answer. On top of our already struggling ecosystem, the impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for independent media. Slashing advertising budgets by more than half in a short period of time and sudden canceling of scheduled events and fundraising programming have deeply affected independent media’s viability.

Therefore, we have to work together as an ecosystem.

In the summer of 2019, the Chicago Reader sent a short survey to 103 independent media outlets in Chicago, ranging in size and scope from small all-volunteer nonprofits to large independent newspapers. Our wide-ranging survey asked for information about their business model, their coverage areas, what languages they speak, and whether they’d be interested in collaborative projects. One year later, we have 66 member media entities. Membership is free, and all of our projects are optional.

In our first year, we hosted a successful joint media fundraiser. Originally a 2021 goal, we coordinated and hosted the campaign due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19. Forty-three CIMA members participated. In total, $104,000 was raised from generous individual donations. Foundations put in $60,000 in matching funds. Our success is an example of how the public and foundations are willing to support our cause.

We see a path forward where media can work together on both editorial and business, including joint projects on news and culture topics, and on fundraising ventures.
Community, neighborhood, and ethnic media—whatever you want to call us—reach vital and important parts of this city long ignored by mainstream media. But just as larger media companies are struggling, so are community media. We need partnerships and new ideas, collaborations and support, to make sure these voices are not allowed to wither.

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