Gapers Block: Redesign and Re-Envision

Andrew Huff Photo

Andrew Huff speaks to DePaul students on April 4, 2011 (Photo by Mike Reilley)

By Laura Jo Clanton

Andrew Huff, a Chicago journalist, professional blogger and online copywriter, recently discussed the decision to redesign the layout of his popular blog site, Gapers Block.

Huff and fellow writer and website designer, Naz Hamid, co-founded Gapers Block in 2003 as the “first city blog in Chicago,” said Huff.

“There wasn’t anything online to capture the interesting things going on in Chicago.”

This redesign will be the first time Gapers Block has undergone such a full body makeover since its inception in 2003. Even more importantly, it will take place without the involvement of co-founder Naz Hamid, who recently moved to San Francisco.

The site upgrade will include layout changes as well as a move to a new server with a “fresh install of our CMS,” says Huff. There are also discussions of adding a business category, although this has yet to be decided on, reports Huff.

The name Gapers Block refers to a term for gaping at an accident, also referred to as rubber necking. Gapers Block was a localism coined by a former Chicago cop who was working as a traffic announcer. Huff and Hamid decided this would be the perfect term to inspire readers to stop, and take a moment to soak up everything that is Chicago.

The website format currently consists of three columns, a photo in the center of the page, and a horizontal section at the bottom of the page. The three columns are the Merge section, the Slowdown section, and the Fuel section. Each discusses separate topics like the events, news, and questions on the minds of Chicagoans.

The site is funded primarily from advertisers, t-shirt sales, and most recently grant money from the Chicago Community Trust. These grant funds were intended to promote their interest on local issues, and to encourage stories that shine the light on underprivileged areas of the city that largely go unnoticed.

The site began to garner attention via word of mouth and the employees desire to spread the word to everyone they knew. Gapers Block was “one of the first CMS’s other than Blogger” available for use at the time. Today, Chicagoist is their biggest direct competitor for readership. They also garner a lot of attention, according to Huff, for their food section “Drive Thru Food.”

Although Gapers Block is not a hard news organization, they have been known to break a story first, that would later be picked up by a major news outlet. Although they have worked with other reporting agencies, it has at times been a tenuous relationship.

With attempts to maintain boundaries and cooperation, Gapers Block works hard to be “the first publisher,” said Huff.

“If [it] goes to another site, we ask to be credited,” he adds, although this can become difficult to enforce.

With these new changes, Andrew Huff hopes to increase hyper-local reporting and help other cities create their own model of localized reporting. “Rising tides lift all boats,” said Huff when asked about this concept spreading to other cities.

In the past, Huff and his associates have been known to advise other cities on how to create their own hyper-local site to extol the virtues of their individual city, such as B-Ham Terminal in Birmingham, Ala.

Huff encourages other cities to develop these types of models and capitalize on this growing area of interest in modern day journalism.

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