Block Club Chicago is Now 5 Years Old

Last year, we covered Block Club Chicago, which is a WordPress-based news start-up.

They’ve now reached their 5th birthday and have one of the most inspiring stories in new U.S. journalism.

I dug into the Block Club Chicago story this week and realized I had missed a related development. Block Club’s success is backed by “Lede“, a relatively new WordPress-based platform. Lede was spun out of a big WordPress agency and are helping organizations like Block Club to succeed. They are focused on being a journalism incubator and not simply a platform.

About Block Club Chicago

Click here for a detailed overview of Block Club’s 5th anniversary, written by the “Local News Initiative” from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I’ll summarize some key points

  • The name “Block Club” refers to a type of Chicago neighborhood association where people band together to share information and improve the community.
  • The site now covers 45 of Chicago’s 77 community areas.
  • They have 29 full-time staffers working.
  • They are very open about asking readers to pay. A majority of their revenue is from subscriptions.
  • They call themselves a “freemium” site. A lot of the content is free, and a smaller amount is paywalled. Within that paywall, you get to read five stories before you’re asked to subscribe.

I’ll take a big quote from the article because it 100% summarizes the attitude we’re seeing in successful journalism in 2023:

At the end of the day, our greatest measure of success is earning the support of our readers. What might earn that support for one reader is going to be very different than another reader. For some of our readers, that might be a big investigation, or some of our readers might support us because we break stories first. But for other readers it might be because we’re covering something that’s going on at their kids’ school that maybe doesn’t have a big interest citywide. Certainly traffic is important, but we look at it, I would say, differently and from a more holistic view. At the end of the day, our biggest metric is the support and trust of our readers, which we can measure, right?

Block Club Chicago

Some notes on the site:

  • Each Chicago neighborhood is treated as a WordPress category. Here’s an example with the “Albany Park” neighborhood.
  • Key functionality such as the store and subscription system is hosted with 3rd parties such as Hype (previously know as “Pico”), Subtext, and Weebly.
  • Lede promises, “WordPress publishing, fully leveraging the writer-friendly Gutenberg Block Editor, hosted by WordPress VIP.”

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