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The Chicago Tribune has launched a new site, powered by CrowdyNews, to crowdsource and distribute stories from third parties that are important to the Chicago area.

The site, NewsChicago, uses more than 300 Twitter users on a 'whitelist' curated by the Tribune to highlight relevant stories, articles and media from around the web.

"One reason people come to the Tribune site is for a curated news report but I think our readers can also spot stories that might be interesting to other readers and help surface those," Bill Adee, vice president of digital operations at the Chicago Tribune, told Journalism.co.uk, "and that's what CrowdyNews does for us.

"Crowdsourcing what's hot in Chicago is the idea and we had enough knowledge about who the best Twitter people were that we could put together a list to create the results we were looking for."

NewsChicago is a different take on the SocialWire platform, built by CrowdyNews for Digital First Media sites, featuring a number of changes, said CrowdyNews chief executive Edwin Kuipers.

"What social media aggregation and ranking and filtering normally does is at the end it shows the actual social media," Kuipers told Journalism.co.uk. "What this does, it does have social media or Twitter as a starting point but shows the content behind the social media."

The software behind the site automatically ranks the most popular stories from the whitelist of Twitter users, chosen from from a mixture of bloggers from the Tribune's ChicagoNow blogging network, followers of the Tribune Twitter account and some users hand-picked by the Tribune's social media managers.

"Whenever one of them [whitelist users] is tweeting with a URL, we look at the URL. What's on there, the title, the synopsis, are there pictures, are there other media, and our system puts that in the memory," said Kuipers. "After that we remain to listen if other people re-use the same content or the same tweets.

"Then you get a ranking system for that content. Not only does it show the content behind the tweet but after that we start counting how many people find it interesting."

Kuipers said the ranking system is based on retweets, mentions of similar content, and "identical references" to the same URL.

The platform can rank stories based on popularity or on "freshness", said Kuipers, as well as a story's "rising" popularity, and users can also view stories by category: news, sport or entertainment.

Screenshot from NewsChicago
Screenshot from NewsChicago

Kuipers also highlighted the visual and responsive nature of the site as being an important step forward in terms of bringing the platform to mobile or tablet users.

Stories are displayed on a Pinterest-style page of picture tiles, where clicking on a tile will bring up the full headline and a standfirst, social media buttons, a selection of social media comments and a button link to the full story.

"Everyone has a mobile strategy, not only our clients, and for us it was also a possibility for us to move into the mobile world and the tablet world," Kuipers said. "For clients, they can play around with tablets and mobile instead of having to use your main brand from the get go."

For the Tribune, NewsChicago is a platform for crowdsourcing stories and understanding reader preferences on a greater level than just page views or click-throughs.

"We value other people's opinions and we need to take that into account," said Adee. "I think we can do it in a variety of ways. If you tweet about a story, that's a higher commitment than just reading the story so that is another way that we can tell what people are reading on our site or what they are engaged with.

"NewsChicago provides a sandbox where we can experiment."

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