Journalism works better when the people affected by media coverage play a role in creating it. That's why City Bureau is building a public newsroom and asking 1,000 of you to be a part of it from the very start.
City Bureau is a Chicago-based journalism lab. We train journalists of diverse backgrounds to deliver accurate, nuanced coverage of civic issues affecting the South and West Sides of Chicago, and we partner with major media outlets to publish the results.
Since our first programs began a year ago, we’ve trained over 30 journalists, published stories in the Chicago Reader, the Guardian US, Chicago Magazine, DNAinfo, The Chicago Reporter, and won 2016 Best Start-Up at Chicago’s premier journalism award ceremony.
Now we're expanding our programs to bring more community members into our new public newsroom, and we want you to be one of the founders.
TLDR; We want to raise $10,000 by the end of August. With $10 from you — and 999 others — City Bureau’s Public Newsroom and Community Documenters program will …
- Create and equip a newsroom on Chicago’s South Side for community members and journalists to learn skills and share ideas
- Expand community-level news coverage of pressing issues, such as lead testing in Chicago Public Schools and the ongoing Department of Justice investigation of the Chicago Police Department
- Show that civic journalism, the kind that gets citizens involved and makes people proud to live in their communities, can be supported by people like you.
Best Start Up, May 2016 -- Chicago Headline Club
Sidney Award, March 2016 -- Hillman Foundation
"A kind of J school on the streets" -- Chicago Reader
"The outlet hopes to serve as a vehicle for change in the community" -- Nieman Lab
"Part training lab, part response to an era of slashed news budgets, the bureau is more a network and platform for partnerships than a traditional news outlet." -- Columbia Journalism Review
So what is a Public Newsroom?
Once a week, we’ll turn our Woodlawn office into an open space where journalists and the public can gather to discuss local issues, share resources and knowledge and learn to report and investigate stories. We’ll bring in guest speakers and host workshops on things like how to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain government records, or how to find and analyze public data.
For working journalists, the public newsroom is a place to find and shape stories in direct conversation with readers. For the public, the newsroom is a front-row seat into how journalism gets made, and a chance to impact the way their neighborhoods are covered in the media.
The public also will be able to access equipment — from books, to recording equipment, to software — in our office, which we share with our friends at South Side Weekly.
How do you know we’ll succeed? Since its inception, City Bureau has distinguished itself from other media outlets by putting community engagement at the forefront. We host town hall meetings and provide tools and resources for attendees — for example, giving tutorials on how to access police complaint data.
There’s one more step in building the Public Newsroom. We’re opening opportunities for everyone to play a direct role in local journalism.
City Bureau will pay newsroom attendees who have learned the basic skills and ethics of community journalism a small stipend to attend public events like local board meetings or public hearings, record what happens, and write a short reflection about their experience.
We’re calling it the Documenters program, and these positions are open to anyone who’s passionate about civic participation and willing to learn the ropes of basic reporting.
What do I get out of a public newsroom?
We see three big reasons to do this.
You get an extra watchdog in the neighborhood. Every month there are dozens of meetings and public events that only a handful of people attend, but where important decisions are made. Journalists simply can’t make it to all of them. By hiring Documenters to record public events, and bringing them together in the public newsroom, we can quickly expand the number of eyes and ears we have on the ground, creating better public oversight for everyone.
Journalism can be more responsive to your needs. The public newsroom will build communication and trust between journalists and readers. In-person feedback and conversation can improve reporting in a way online commenting never could. At the same time, we’ll give citizens a better public understanding of the power and limitations of journalism.
A more inclusive newsroom benefits everyone. Without getting too grandiose about it, we think the creation of spaces like this could have a deep, long-term impact on American journalism. We're breaking down barriers to bring diverse perspectives into newsrooms. Even if you don’t personally come (though you should!), everybody benefits when there are more voices in the room.
What's an example of the kind of project you'd do?
Documenters will attend and record meetings during the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Chicago Police Department. (Here’s an example.)
One of the first Documenters projects was our Task Force Tracker, which brought expert analysis and crowd-sourced info to the city's recommended police accountability reforms. (See: How We Built a Police Reform Tracker on a Platform Made for Rap Lyrics)
Documenters will work together with journalists on traditional investigations, like this recent cover story for the Chicago Reader, on how Chicago’s police union shapes (and distorts) media coverage of fatal police shootings.
What’s with the goal?
Why ask for only $10 instead of going for the big bucks? Because we need more than money to make the Public Newsroom a success — we need a whole lot of people to step forward and participate.
Here’s the thing: despite being widely considered a public good, American journalism is largely funded through big-dollar bets by a few decision makers, whether it’s corporations or foundations.
Foundations have an important role to play, and we’re proud to have the support of some of Chicago’s best. But we also believe that if our coverage is going to be inclusive, our funding model should be too.
A $10 contribution from 1,000 people will also make a powerful statement that civic journalism, the kind that gets citizens involved and makes people proud to live in their communities, can be supported by people like you.
Can I donate more than $10?
Sure! Kickstarter allows you to increase your contribution as you wish. But more importantly, we want you to spread the word—tell your friends, colleagues and family, and share the project with your own network. (And if you're looking to make a tax-deductible contribution, you can reach out directly to email@example.com.)
How will the money be spent?
The $10,000 will help provide stipends for our Documenters and outfit the newsroom space with some additional equipment and recording gear.
What’s the long-term vision for the Public Newsroom? Is this a one-off project?
We're in this for the long haul. City Bureau was founded by an editor, a journalist, a journalism educator, and a local publisher. We all felt that the ideals of civic journalism were increasingly out of sync with the economic and political realities in which they exist.
We also believe there is huge potential to find a better way.
We started from a few core beliefs:
- That journalism does not have to be a profession for privileged elites, and that the public benefits when newsrooms reflect the communities they serve.
- That marginalized communities deserve a robust, well-rounded news media, and that the public benefits when those stories are told.
- That there is a demand for quality, community-centered journalism, and that the public benefits when journalism is funded by diverse stakeholders in a collaborative model.
Our long-term vision is a local media ecosystem that is open to all, capable of holding official power accountable, and can strengthen the bonds within communities.
If you want to see this happen, support us. Pledge $10. Tell your friends. We’ll work every day to make this vision a reality.
In the Media:
Risks and challenges
The challenge will be to recruit enough community members and raise enough money to make a robust, active and effective Public Newsroom. While it's not an easy task, we believe we have the skills and experience to bring the project to life.
We truly believe the risk lies not in the project itself, but in not making a commitment to reinvigorate strong civic media in Chicago.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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