There's a claim that The Windy City soubriquet fell on Chicago not as a result of the howl coming off Lake Michigan but from the bluster the city showed after stealing the World's Columbian Exhibition, of 1893, from under the nose of New York.

Various internet wikis will tell you - no doubt written by sore New Yorkers - that residents and local politicians took great pleasure letting The Big Apple know all about the scoop.

Erstwhile fact or shaggy dog story, it's a close call?

However, more than 100 years later, the city may have a claim to again wax-lyrical about being a byword for innovation and achievement.

As local paper sales fall sharply in the US - and in the UK for that matter - and news organisations cut back on staff and coverage, a Chicago-based experiment in grassroots citizen journalism may be providing the model for how local news is sourced in the future.

Launched in December, the Chi Town Daily News is increasing its readership by 10 per cent each month because of its unique approach to publication.

"The big idea for American newspapers was one of being all things to all people. But that was not true anymore," said Geoff Dougherty, 36, founder and editor of The Daily News.

"Now people go to specialist sites for what they are looking for, rather than one-stop shopping as they did before."

While working as a reporter on The Chicago Tribune, Mr Dougherty noticed that good quality local stories were being overlooked, or not covered at all, as international and state-wide news took up space in the paper.

Mr Dougherty, who spent most of his 14 years as a journalist working in Florida, attributed the dwindling sales figures of the paper, and others like it across America, to an inability to capture a young, city-dwelling, techno-literate readership.

He concluded that the digital age, rather than simply increasing the flow of knowledge around the globe, was something that could put people back in touch with the world on their doorstep.

"There is a big demand for ultra-local information. It is perverse really what news focuses on," he said.

"People are most interested in what is happening down the street.

"But most of the prestige and resources goes into reporting things that are farthest away from us.

"It is about correcting that balance."

Mr Dougherty, who has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, left The Tribune left to start a more radical approach to local reporting with The Daily News.

He decided to hand the reporting process to the readership, offering to train people living in Chicago's boroughs to write stories about what is going on in their neighbourhoods.

"To me the breaking news thing is good but you can always send professionals to cover breaking news events. These stories are not going to go uncovered," Mr Dougherty said.

"But in a city the size of Chicago there is no way to have a reporter covering everything that is going on.

"So to have someone that lives in a neighbourhood, who knows the people, and knows the issues, and is going to that local meeting because they are interested, and then can write something afterwards, now that is the real beauty of this."

Currently, he has 15 reporters throughout the city, none of who are professional journalists. He is the lone full-time member of staff.

Eventually he hopes to have a fully trained 'citizen' reporter in each of Chicago’s zip codes to provide coverage on what matters most to people in those areas, which could be as varied as covering neighbourhood sports teams, reporting on local planning, or more in-depth investigative pieces about city administration.

Other experiments in citizen journalism have often failed because of unfocused idealism. Where the noble idea of returning the news agenda to the masses has become reduced to loaded political ranting.

The Daily News believes it can thrive because it offers citizen journalism on an ultra-local basis.

The site follows an open-source model of journalism where the news is not passed down from author to reader but is conversation between the two.

It does away with an old fashioned 'top down' model of reporting, instead drawing the readers in and giving them back control over public discourse.

"Do I see us some day buying and absorbing the Chicago Tribune? No," Mr Dougherty said.

"For the foreseeable future they are so large and so well funded.

"But can we make inroads? We certainly can.

"There are things that people go to the Tribune for, such as state and international news, but they are the things that we are definitely not covering.

"But there is a great opportunity for us to make inroads into the local news."

The project was initially funded through a $12,000 grant from the University of Maryland's Centre for Interactive Journalism and is run by Illinois not-for-profit company PublicMedia - of which Dougherty is the CEO.

As well as written pieces, readers submit photos to the site, either directly or by tagging images uploaded to Flickr with the Daily New's URL.

"Doing this leads us to real places and to lots of wonderful photos. The most striking thing is the high quality and the fact that it is very local, all Chicago stuff," Mr Dougherty said.

"It has clued us in and put our name to people that would not have known about us otherwise, and given our content to a wider audience.

"Having a good eye is not the preserve of the professional photographer alone.

"We have really accomplished amateur photographers."

He added: "Professionals can’t be everywhere all the time, amateurs can capture images at specific times and places that professionals can't get."

With that Mr Dougherty might just have got to the nub of the citizen/professional debate - and shown a way the two can work symbiotically.

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