Let’s Kick a Beat with Jim Dallke of Chicago Inno
Here at 3Points, we get a lot of newsletters every day. Many we just skim, some we delete. But one we always look forward to — the one that has us checking our inbox every weekday around 3 PM — is The Beat. Produced by Chicago Inno, an excellent Chicago online news publication with a focus on the city’s tech scene, The Beat distinguishes itself by being comprehensive, yet light and readable. Each edition helps us stay up-to-date and provides plenty of laughs along the way.
Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of getting to know Chicago Inno’s crack team of reporters. Recently, we sat down with Jim Dallke, associate editor at Chicago Inno, to chat about two of our favorite things: journalism and Chicago tech. As Jim says at the start of each newsletter, “let’s kick a beat.”
Can you give our readers some background on Chicago Inno? How and when did Chicago Inno come about? What is the publication’s mission?
Chicago Inno launched in 2014. We were the third Inno site; Boston was the first, founded in 2009. The founders realized no one was covering the startup scene in Boston — it was an area that was completely missed. So BostInno became the voice of the scene in Boston. Then they launched in DC as the second market. A few years later, American City Business Journals acquired them. Then Chicago launched.
Now Inno is in several other cities — Austin, the Twin Cities, Rhode Island, Cincinnati, and Atlanta — all under the banner of American Inno. There will be more cities coming in 2018 as well. [What separates us is that] we cover startups and innovation locally. We’re the boots on the ground covering local startup ecosystems.
How much do you work with the Inno teams in other cities?
We’re really a collaborative newsroom. We’re on Slack, talking every day with our colleagues in other markets. I’ll occasionally write something for Cincinnati, since we’re close by — Midwest cities helping each other out. We’re always talking.
What is your role at Inno? How long have you been there? How did you end up there?
I’m from North Carolina originally. I came out here for grad school at Northwestern. After graduating, I got a chance to work at a print news publication in the Chicago suburbs, and I worked there for one-and-a-half years. Then I had the opportunity to start at Chicago Inno when the site launched. I was part of the founding team, thanks to my grad school buddy who worked in Boston.
It was just a team of three to start — Will Flanagan [now the national director of product and strategy for American Inno], a sales coordinator, and me. The team got to six people, then we relocated some to Inno’s home base in Charlotte. The team in Chicago is four people right now.
How did you end up writing about tech?
I can’t say that tech reporting was always the goal, though I’ve always had an interest in new tech. The opportunity sort of fell into my lap, but I’m so glad my career navigated this way. It’s a very fun beat to cover. There’s always a great new company or entrepreneur.
You mentioned writing for Cincinnati sometimes — do you often write for other cities?
99% of the work I do is very Chicago-focused. Occasionally, when launching in a new market, we’ll help them write some pieces to make their site look nice and full. I’ll jump on the phone with a Cincinnati entrepreneur and interview them.
Does every Inno city have The Beat? Or just Chicago?
Every Inno city has The Beat, though some cities publish it less frequently — specifically, Cincinnati is twice a week and Rhode Island is once a week. Everyone else is daily.
How long has The Beat newsletter been around? What’s the process for putting it together?
The Beat started back when BostInno started. They realized it was a great way to reach their audience.
The fun thing is it’s different in every city. It’s anchored by the personalities in each city — it’s not just a boilerplate newsletter. Every writer and every city decides the tone, how it feels. That’s how it has grown.
The Beat does take time to put together. It’s not just throwing 10 links into an email and pressing send — it’s a labor of love. Still, The Beat is the thing we get the most feedback on. It’s what resonates the most with our audience, and it’s a product that’s really helped us grow as a company.
In terms of my role specifically, I’m kind of anchoring how it is put together, the structure of it, and what we’re covering that day. I’m the one who hits “send.” But there is a lot of back and forth, and the newsletter is often based off conversations had in the office.
The Beat is really a living beast, 24/7. We’re working on it up until I hit send. Then, after I hit send, we’re working on the next one. We’re always thinking about stories we want to put in and talk about. It’s always top-of-mind.
Does all that responsibility ever get to you?
We use MailChimp, and when you hit send, you get a pop-up asking, “Are you sure you’re ready to hit send?” Hitting send is pretty frightening, but after you send your first several hundred, you kind of get used to it.
What do you think it means to be a tech journalist today?
Tech journalism is about accessibility. We don’t think of ourselves as a trade publication. The tech audience is certainly part of our audience, but we hope we’re reaching a broader audience of people who may not understand tech but are interested in it. That’s where we see our role, hopefully showing this information to people.
Our goal is to make tech coverage and news as accessible as possible. We want to get as many people in Chicago as possible learning about the tech and startup scene.
On a broader level, what do you think it means to be a journalist in general today?
It’s an interesting time. Journalism is kind of in a golden age of incredible news writing. We’re seeing some of the best journalism in the U.S. in decades. On the flip side, we’re seeing the perils of online media and clickbait, and there’s a lot of fake news. It’s kind of funny that you’re seeing both at the same time, but I do think that the good certainly outshines bad.
If you ask journalists, whether at The New York Times or Chicago Inno, the goal is to write good, truthful, and compelling stories about the subjects you’re covering, and I believe that’s what we’re doing.
We really enjoy the “Rants & Ramblings” section of The Beat — what’s your favorite “Rants & Ramblings” you’ve ever sent out?
I don’t necessarily have one. I like those sections when they are less about tech, more on the silly side. They’re almost Seinfeldian — “what’s the deal with this?” We had a recent rant from a reader about sidewalk umbrella etiquette — that made me laugh.
Even if you’re not interested in what’s going on in Chicago tech that day, hopefully “Rants and Ramblings” makes you laugh, and gives you a reason to open the newsletter.
How do you think the Chicago tech scene compares to other cities’?
That’s a question we think about a lot; however, the longer we’ve been doing this, the less important this question becomes. It’s not about: “Can Chicago compare to Silicon Valley?” It’s really: “Can Chicago be better than Chicago has ever been?”
Are there more tech jobs in 2018 than in 2017? Was there more revenue in 2018 than in 2017? Can Chicago be a place for college grads to live? Is it possible for people who want to work in technology to get a great job, buy a house, and create a great quality of life? I think Chicago absolutely can.
Chicago is not NYC or Silicon Valley — Chicago is Chicago. It’s a big city, a great city, and people who want to work in tech and live in Chicago can do that.
We know reporters are constantly getting pitches from people like us — what makes for a pitch that you actually want to read and follow up on?
The best pitches come from people who share similar news values and news judgment. People who understand the value of the story and what will catch the journalist’s attention. Any time you can get to multiple layers of newsworthiness in a pitch, you will catch a journalist’s eye — “Company A isn’t just interesting because of this, but because of this, this, and this.” Any time that we get a pitch like that, it’s an interesting story, one we really like.
Any suggestions for opening paragraphs or subject lines?
It should be short, concise, and to-the-point. Say what the news is. Getting to the nuts and bolts of the news is very helpful.
How do you spread the word about Inno?
The challenge with any new media or local journalistic product is to get in front of audiences. I’m sure there are plenty of people familiar with The Beat who may not have clicked on Chicago Inno’s site. We’re trying to slowly grow the social presence, trying to show up on Google News. We’ve made some nice inroads in terms of getting in front of a wider audience, but that’s not something you ever stop doing. You’re always trying to grow your audience, get more people reading your work — it’s an ongoing process.
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