Many journalists go by the words "write what you know." Marcus Gilmer, editor-in-chief of the Chicagoist does just that and then some. By getting his master's degree in creative writing at the University of New Orleans, Gilmer isn't afraid to add a little spice to his work. After writing "dry" pieces for an architectural site after grad school, Gilmer found an outlet in the Chicagoist where he writes about our exciting city.
Remember the man who collapsed and died at Lollapalooza this year? Marcus tweeted the incident and it was reported on Breaking Tweets. Through the world of developing online journalism, Marcus has found a balance between writing what you know and writing what you feel.
Audio: Gilmer discusses if he thinks Twitter and Facebook hurt online media and what he thinks his career would be like if he had gotten his start five years earlier.
Q: What is a typical workday like as an online journalist?
MG: It starts around 7 to 7:30 a.m. I'll check in with our writers that have written something the night before and catch up with stories that have been chewed up overnight. Then I go over the schedule and email the staff reminding them who is on schedule. Then it’s finding out the main news. I'll check my email because we'll have tips coming in. From there it's writing and updating what's happening and I wait for stories to come in from staff.
Q: How do you incorporate Twitter, Facebook & other media outlets in to your work?
MG: We use Twitter to interact with readers. We'll post stories that we might not cover on the Web site and re-tweet stories. It allows a different interaction with readers for feedback and discussion. Facebook is a fairly interactive tool as opposed to something that helps the day-to-day operations of the site. We encourage readers to post something to their Facebook or tweet it. As a result, Twitter and Facebook have become big in the past six months to refer traffic to us. A link to one of our stories will be on someone’s Facebook page, which then reaches three or four hundred people. It also reaches people who don't live in Chicago. If it's something that strikes their fancy than they are a potential audience. You encourage that kind of thing.
Q: How do you cover stories differently than print & television journalists?
MG: The main thing is we have room to be more subjective and overt. If we think something is ridiculous, we'll say it. One story that hit a nerve with me was last winter when Mayor Daley announced that he was going to spend millions of dollars to replace all the current police cars with SUV's. That is good because they need an upgrade but he was also saying we don't have money to hire new cops and it was frustrating. We can call bullshit on someone if we think its bullshit. You see that in the omit pages of the newspapers and on TV news, but there is flexibility to be subjective and that's what makes us different than print and TV.
Q: The Chicagoist is a very "involved" Web site that encourages personal expression from employees (i.e. posting old Halloween pictures from each employee's childhood). However, in many journalism classes, I was taught to keep personality out of it and write strictly facts. Do you think it's good to abandon the traditional rules of journalism and start to include a little bit of yourself for readers?
MG: I think so. Part of why online media has taken off in the last couple of years is because people like to see what others think but they also like to share their thoughts and interact. Everyone can have a blog to share what they think. The wall that still exists is part of what's hurting print media. People are more drawn to something that has personality. People are drawn to others that share the same views as well as things you disagree with. I hear a lot from readers when they disagree with something. It's the flexibility of not having to think the way a newspaper would.
Q: The Chicagoist is considered the most popular blog in the Windy City and is seen as the "go to" site for news. What makes it so successful? What sets it apart from other Chicago news blogs?MG: Being part of the Gothamist network certainly helps with our visibility. The quality of our writing helps because of a fantastic staff. Our personality has a certain appeal for readers and it either hits a nerve or is something people really dig so that's why they keep coming back. We check readers to build up and we're noticed more and have more opportunities. We cover things, which gives us more exposure and more traffic and it just grows. We were involved in the inauguration and something like that gives the site a sense of legitimacy. People start taking you seriously and visiting the site more.
Also check out Source Hub for a collection of Gilmer's articles.
Photo: taken from the Chicagoist