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One year ago, City Bureau launched the Public Newsroom after the success of a month-long Kickstarter campaign. Contrary to crowdfunding best practices, we asked people to donate only $10 each — even discouraging larger donations, asking donors to spread the word instead — to create a truly democratized space where people could learn from each other, share skills and hear about amazing things happening in the local media world.
It may have sounded crazy, but it worked. We raised over $13,000 from 662 people in 30 days.
Since then, the Public Newsroom has gone from twice a month to once a week. Our workshops has been led by a wide array of community members, from civil rights icon Timuel Black to journalists to game designers. It’s always free, and always public. And most importantly, it was made possible by the collective efforts of our supporters.
It struck us that this model — creating a program that’s not just for the people and by the people, but funded by the people — was the truest expression of City Bureau’s mission. We wrote back then:
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.
City Bureau is grounded in the belief that when community members get involved in journalism, everybody benefits. We built our nonprofit newsroom around the ideals of inclusion, equity and trust. The Public Newsroom is just one part of that — we’re also expanding our Documenters program and running an innovative Reporting Fellowship, all with just two full-time employees. As we enter our third year of operation, we are taking the next, critical step toward truly putting the public at the center of all our work: building a membership program.
The Press Club, as we’re dubbing it, will have many of the hallmarks you might expect from media memberships. We’ll have members-only events and newsletters, a cute coffee mug and other fun swag, and opportunities to give feedback at the earliest stages of our projects. (You can read all about it here.)
But becoming a City Bureau member means something more. Your contribution represents our shared commitment to reimagining local journalism. We often say that we started City Bureau because we thought that local media could be better — and we didn’t want to wait around for someone to improve it for us. In the last two years, hundreds of people have agreed; they’ve showed us by joining our programs, attending our events and sharing our work on social media.
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If you believe in the power of journalism — the kind that gets citizens involved and makes people proud to live in their communities — then we hope you’ll make a financial commitment as well.
We’re also proud to announce that any donation (up to $1,000) to City Bureau between now and December 31 will be doubled, due to generous support from News Match, a collaboration between Democracy Fund, Knight Foundation and MacArthur Foundation. The News Match program is aimed at supporting nonprofit news organizations like us, which play a vital role informing the public and holding those in power accountable. We are excited to have such essential support in our launch of our new Press Club program, and as we prepare for our launch party, the Soap Box Ball, on November 2.
Every little bit counts. If every Chicagoan donated just a single dollar per year, we’d be a nearly $2.7 million organization. (It would only take 28,000 Bronze-level members ($8/month) to reach that same figure.)
Your donation ensures City Bureau has the resources to grow sustainably, independently, and — most importantly — to be accountable to you, our readers, supporters and neighbors. With your support, we are able to keep our core programming free and open to the public.
We invite you to join us in our civic journalism mission and become a Press Club member today.
It’s always surprising when folks show up for something of a civics lesson after work.
On a balmy Wednesday in August, the crowd at St. Philip Neri Elementary School looked thin just minutes before 6 p.m., the start time for a community meeting about sustainability and transportation around the planned Obama Foundation library and golf course in South Shore.
But just on cue, people flocked in, dutifully took fliers at the door, and filled the rows of tables and metal folding chairs in the cavernous gym.
For City Bureau, we have spent the past several weeks working on a project about City Council, specifically examining the actions of the 18-member aldermanic Black Caucus after the video of Laquan McDonald was released in November 2015. As the city has sought to address issues affecting African American communities — a soaring crime rate, an exodus of residents from many African American communities and a loss of trust in the mayor and politics in general — we wanted to see how politicians had responded by taking a closer look at the caucus’s actions. We also wanted to find out what happened behind the scenes during this period of political turmoil, talking to politicos and aldermen about their roles and why proposals for stricter, more community-oriented police accountability legislation had failed.
And while we’ve had some success exploring some data and talking to political players — stay tuned for the results — we hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to regular folks, voters and would-be voters, about some of the basics: What did they think of City Council? How did they feel about their aldermen? In the political doldrums of August, the one month without a City Council meeting, political activity tends to take a pause before school starts. The Obama Foundation meeting on August 16 seemed like a rare chance to chat with people about some of these issues.
One of the first people who bounded into the meeting was Paula Robinson, who murmured something about the heat — a fan in the back of the room seemed to simply stir the humidity — before finding a spot to sit. Before we could ask about her feelings on City Council and the Black Caucus, she wanted to discuss the Obama library. (The reason for the meeting, more specifically, was to talk about the environmental sustainability of the project, transportation concerns, and ensuring that the project would bring jobs to nearby residents.) Robinson is a community developer and a member of the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, and she believes developers should work more closely with communities.
“The city should say to any developer … that they are going to need to support these community plans, community visions,” she said.
Juanita Irizarry, the executive director of Friends of the Park, which is pushing for the preservation of park land, wondered aloud into the microphone as part of a group of panelists: “Is this just a done deal? Is this planning process just a charade?” Several other attendees expressed similar skepticism—especially since Obama Foundation officials were not present to answer any questions, though organizers said they had been to previous meetings. (Incidentally, the Sun-Times enshrined this angle with a cover headline: “Obama library details: Shhhhhhhh!”)
Thomas Petty, a 21-year-old who said he was there to make sure locals get jobs that come along with building and maintaining the library, said it didn’t occur to him to go to City Council for answers or leadership. “It depends on us,” he said. Other attendees said they were worried the development would eventually price long-time residents out of the area.
The organizers of the meeting, including Anton Seals, with Grow Greater Englewood, have pushed for a Community Benefits Agreement, a legal document that would bind the city to certain goals proposed by a coalition of community groups. Seals said he believes the city isn’t sharing its intentions with the public about the Obama library, and he’s not expecting much help from City Council.
“A plan is done and they’re not being really open about it,” Seales said. They’re all Obama-ites. [City Council] is not going to challenge Barack. And they don’t challenge Rahm.”
The Chicago Reader reported in July that Obama’s library plans are indeed on the fast track and that officials do not intend to sign a Community Benefits Agreement. This, despite foundation officials releasing a statement last year to CBS, saying that they agree with locals’ goals: “Our efforts are focused not only on ensuring that residents aren’t displaced, but that they feel the economic benefits of the project.”
Jeanette Taylor, an organizer with the advocacy group Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), bolted from the meeting early—she wasn’t the only one to leave in frustration. “When have they ever stood up?” she said of City Council.
Robinson, for her part, is more hopeful about the library’s prospects for partnering with the community.
“We have a 99-year eclipse [coming],” she said. “All things are possible.”
It’s good to be reminded that the state of politics is in the eye of the beholder.
First things first, if you missed our Thursday, August 31, Public Newsroom, you can now listen in each week via our audio livestream (Public Newsroom Radio, anyone?). Join us live on the digital airwaves or bookmark this page for later listening: http://www.spreaker.com/user/citybureau
Last night’s workshop was a long time in the making. Our invitation to the public went like this:
Chicago media is in a moment of transition. The Chicago Sun-Times is under new ownership, local nonprofit and community news outlets are working for change on the ground as national outlets move to the city, and foundations are seeking to stabilize a fractured media ecosystem.
At City Bureau, we believe a thriving media ecosystem is key to an informed citizenry, but solutions to our collective challenges will require diverse voices, ideas and input. #PublicNewsroom #33 is one of many places where this conversation will take place.
And it did. Nearly 50 journalists, editors, community members, students and freelancers stopped by our South Side newsroom to hear Sheila Solomon (Rivet Radio, Democracy Fund, formerly of the Chicago Tribune), Scott Smith (Digital and Social Strategist, formerly of Touchvision) and Blanca Rios (ABC7 and NAHJ Chicago chapter president) discuss sustainable media models, newsroom diversity and Chicago’s local media ecosystem.
As always, we kicked the night off by having our audience introduce themselves and tell the crowd why they came from across the city to spend time at our space. This portion of the night takes a minute but, honestly, it’s worth every second—it breaks the ice and puts audience members on the same plane as panelists. (Not to mention, it allows attendees to more easily identify connections between each other, and, if they choose, to share contact information after the event.)
We eventually got down to business.
I started by posing a general question to the panel to get our collective creative thoughts flowing: “When you think of media models that Chicago needs to thrive, where do your thoughts go?”
Meanwhile, City Bureau’s lead editor Bettina Chang started a thread that you can follow here:
I can’t thank our panelists enough for their readiness to go in on the issues—and our audience for sharing so many questions and insights throughout the conversation.
The first eye-opening moment came via a question from Rivet Radio’s Sheila Solomon:
The response was telling. Of a diverse group of ~50 people in the room, less than a handful raised their hands when asked if they feel represented in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s a point Blanca Rios raised not just in terms of audience, but also in the highest levels of newsroom staffing:
While alarming, this isn’t news on the South Side of Chicago. In many ways, City Bureau was founded as an infrastructural and solutions-based response to this core issue which, to us, involves a few key points: 1) a lack of community trust in media, 2) a lack of equitable reporting on the part of news outlets, and 3) a traditional gate-keeper approach that doesn’t acknowledge the boons of providing direct services around information and engagement.
At the same time, our panelists agreed that an insistence on labeling Chicago a “two-paper town” is flawed in itself. It doesn’t reflect the many community, ethnic and alternative presses that currently exist on Chicago’s media landscape:
Some folks in the audience agreed:
While Public Newsroom #33 tackled issues of resource distribution for existing and incoming nonprofit news outlets via foundation support, we kept coming back to public support as a means of decreasing reliance on “power” and special interests:
Our panelists and audience had clearly spent time thinking on this:
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As we’ve noted in past blogs and events, this last point is in many ways the question that launched City Bureau:
While we value our expert panelists for their insight, experience and time spent with our team, my personal favorite portion of each #PublicNewsroom event is the workshop. For this event, we had our panelists join the audience for small-group discussions.
This included filling out a worksheet, which serves two functions: 1) to help attendees explore their media consumption habits and and how that connects with their daily lives, 2) to provide us with vital data and information that helps us refine our work and events.
As always, we saved time at the end of the night for each group to share out their discussions to the full group for further reflection:
Overall, feedback from Public Newsroom #33 was earnest and affirming—City Bureau Community Engagement Director Andrea Faye Hart may have summed it up best:
To follow our reporting and engagement efforts, join our twice-a-month newsletter for updates. Reporting and free community-based events like this is brought to you by a staff of experienced and emerging local journalists working collaboratively to share skills, stories and information in your community. Subscribers are vital to continue our mission.
To support our work at any amount, visit our website.
Lastly, for some further reading, please see the material Scott Smith collected during his preparation for our Public Newsroom panel and workshop from folks like Jeff Jarvis, Jack Conte, Texas Tribune and Nieman Lab. We also encourage you to read his Day 2 thread on some of the issues that weren’t raised during our event (to be sure, these are issues we’ll dig deeper on in a #PublicNewsroom continuation of this conversation):
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Navigating the legal system involves a lot of waiting. In the lobby of the Dirksen federal courthouse in Chicago, Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez’s children tried their best to pass the time before their father’s court date on Tuesday. The youngest played on a handrail and ran toward the courthouse’s revolving door before being called back by adults and eventually sitting to play with a fidget spinner. The oldest sat silently, staring at a phone. The middle child buried her head against her mother, who was discussing the upcoming hearing with supporters.
Their father’s case alleges that Immigration Customs and Enforcement officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights and used excessive force when arresting him. It also claims that Catalan-Ramirez was mistreated by corrections officers and provided with inadequate medical care at McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility after his arrest. Since he was detained in late March, it’s the second time his children have been to court.
The children understand what’s going on with their father’s case, but not in great detail, Celene Adame, the children’s mother and Catalan-Ramirez’s wife, said. Faced with an incarcerated partner, “I really have no choice but to keep on going,” Adame said, “My family needs him, my kids need him.”
Before the hearing started, Adame found out that Catalan-Ramirez would not be able to attend his court date; she had hoped the kids could see their father as it’s difficult for the family to travel to McHenry County for visits. Instead, he would remain at the detention facility.
During the hearing Judge Joan Lefkow ruled that the six ICE agents listed as “John Doe” in the lawsuit will have their names revealed, as the 7th Circuit court rarely allows anonymous defendants, she said.
Lefkow also urged Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys and Jana Brady, attorney for Correct Care Systems, to reach a settlement over claims involving Catalan-Ramirez’s medical care at the county facility, which Correct Care provides. Catalan-Ramirez has ongoing medical needs as a result of a drive-by-shooting; he is partially paralyzed and requires pain medication, and sustained additional injuries during his arrest, according to his suit. Brady asked the judge to sever the claims against Correct Care Systems into a separate case as her clients would not agree to the medical demands made by Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys. “That ship has sailed,” Brady said, referring to the possibility of settling out of court.
There were six defense attorneys present in court, an indication of the complex relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. In addition to ICE and Correct Care Systems, the lawsuit also names defendants that are part of the Chicago Police Department and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department.
The lawsuit alleges that Catalan-Ramirez was arrested without judicial warrant or suspicion of being involved in a crime, a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. His arrest was a result of being included in CPD’s gang database even though he has never been a member of a gang, the lawsuit alleges. While Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance generally restricts collaboration between CPD and ICE, gang affiliation is one of the exceptions that allows cooperation between the two. The suit also claims that Catalan-Ramirez suffered a shoulder injury and loss of eyesight during the arrest, which means he now needs help with tasks like eating and getting dressed.
Speaking to supporters after the hearing, Adame said Catalan-Ramirez was struggling with the length of the case and the uncertainty of the outcome. The next hearing in his case, which his lawyers expect to be a brief status hearing, is scheduled for September 6.
This summer, City Bureau reporters are investigating the agencies and policies that make up immigration enforcement in Chicago. If you have any experiences with immigration enforcement to share, please reach out here or at email@example.com.
Last Thursday, a coalition of neighborhood and immigrant rights groups hosted a town hall to discuss how Illinois State Police interact with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Though a representative from ISP answered questions at the meeting, organizers — who said they are seeing heightened levels of fear and anxiety in their community due to the Trump administration’s focus on deporting undocumented immigrants — said they left without additional clarity on the issues that matter most.
According to the organizers, the meeting was spurred after two people connected to St. Pius V Parish, where the town hall was held, were taken into custody by ICE after separate driving incidents. In the Illinois-based incident, the driver, who is an undocumented immigrant, was allegedly rear-ended by another driver, who then called the police and state troopers arrived at the scene. He was later deported.
Rafaela Guillen, a member of the congregation, said she believes the state troopers informed ICE about the driver’s immigration status. At the meeting, organizers and audience members repeatedly asked Gutierrez if the state police would report undocumented immigrants to ICE.
Illinois State Police Major Luis Gutierrez said ISP policy prohibits officers from detaining someone based on suspicion of their immigration status. However, Gutierrez said the law requires the state police to contact ICE in certain situations, including when someone is being arrested for a felony charge or sex offense, is suspected of participating in human trafficking or is a “documented gang member.” The state police is also required to contact ICE if there is a National Crime Information Center hold placed on an individual, he said. (NCIC is a database that contains information on stolen property as well as individuals who are missing or have outstanding warrants, including administrative warrants for being “immigration violator[s].”)
“We have a responsibility to law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal law enforcement authorities, just like we do with every other agency in the state and in the country,” Gutierrez said.
When pressed about the case highlighted at the meeting, Gutierrez said the man who was deported had an NCIC hold. When pressed further by the audience, Gutierrez said that Illinois State Police did not detain the man. “We didn’t hand him over to anyone. He went home,” Gutierrez said.
An ISP spokesperson said via email that officers contact ICE if a person has records in the NCIC immigration file from a prior deportation or an administrative immigration warrant. (Unlike warrants in criminal investigations, immigration warrants are not issued by a judge and do not have the same probable-cause standard. Administrative warrants authorize ICE agents to detain someone based on an immigration violation.)
The deported man’s story highlights to complicated collaboration between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, even in places labeled as “sanctuary” jurisdictions, such as Chicago. Attendees asked Gutierrez if the agency would limit its cooperation with ICE.
“It’s not as easy as yes or no,” Gutierrez responded.
Anna Gonzales, a Pilsen resident who attended the meeting, said she wasn’t satisfied with the Gutierrez’s answers. “I really feel like he didn’t answer the question exactly the way it was given to him,” Gonzales said. Rather than explain how someone went from a traffic crash to deportation, Gonzales said the state police just stated their official policy. “I think we can look that up on the internet,” Gonzales said.
In recent months, immigrant rights advocates have increasingly drawn attention to the ways law enforcement data collection and sharing can lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants. In May, attorneys representing Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department and other government entities claiming that his inclusion in CPD’s gang database led to a raid by ICE agents. Attorneys representing Luis Vicente Pedrote-Salinas also filed a lawsuit over his inclusion in CPD’s gang database. The gang database is one of the “carve-outs,” or exceptions, that permit cooperation between the police department and federal immigration authorities, in Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, that activists are pushing to close.
Rita Aguilar, vice president of the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, one of the groups that organized the event, said immigration enforcement has contributed to a sense of fear in her neighborhood. Fewer people are showing up to “know your rights” trainings, some families have kept their children home from school and some are skipping health care appointments, she said. They worry that, “If I share my information, will I be at risk of deportation?” Aguilar said. At the meeting, coalition representatives tried to convey that undocumented residents were safe to participate in these kinds of daily activities.
Gonzales also feels a change in Pilsen as a result of the Trump administration’s focus on immigration enforcement. “The milieu in Pilsen has always been a place of happiness, a place of hope, a place of caring,” Gonzales said, “and I think some of that now is changed, because I think people are afraid to meet other people now.” However, she also sees these challenges in the context of the community’s strength.
“I think that meetings like this are giving people encouragement, and giving people hope back, and giving people the ability to have a voice still,” Gonzales said. “Pilsen has always had a voice and as long as I can remember in this neighborhood, we have fought for everything that we’ve gotten.”
This summer, City Bureau reporters are working to document the infrastructure of immigration enforcement in Chicago — in other words, the many ways that immigration officials can affect the lives of Chicago residents. If you have a story or tip to share, please reach out here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Charles Preston and Calvin Rashaud Davis
We could not have picked a better day to attend a Chicago City Council meeting. A Cook County judge ruled last December that meetings must allow time for public comment to comply with the Open Meetings Act, so the mic was finally open today for community members to speak.
For a total of 30 minutes, individuals were granted three minutes each to express their grievances, frustrations and appreciation to the gathered aldermen. Once the clock reached the three-minute mark, the mic went dead.
Interestingly, as citizens poured out their concerns, the mayor could be seen having sidebar conversations from his perch above the rest of the council. One woman constantly shouted “Rahm’s not listening” as a reminder to all.
“Everyone knows where I stand because I don’t hide it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Ms. Jenkins. “I have a built-in microphone and I’m going to use it.”
Here’s what else we saw at the meeting.
Though the meeting allowed for public comment for the first time, that didn’t stop old-fashioned protest action. A coalition of student and youth groups including STOP Chicago, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice attempted to disrupt the chambers seven times through spontaneous chants demanding tax-increment financing money for Chicago Public Schools funding.
They chanted, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!” and, “We need teachers, we need books, we need the money that Rahm took!” Most aldermen did not seem rattled and some appeared to be a little amused; the mayor was visibly flustered.
Students started their chanting as council members discussed the North Branch Development project. With a passing vote of 46–2, this project changes the boundaries of the North Branch corridor’s Planned Manufacturing Districts.
Discussion of the $38.75 million settlement grew heated as 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale vehemently voiced his frustrations with the structure of the class-action lawsuit which resulted in lawyers receiving the bulk sum of the funds, while actual plaintiffs were set to receive no more than $50 each.
Alderman Ed Burke, of Chicago’s 14th Ward, was the most vocal—issuing an “I told you so” to the rest of City Council.
“Stevie Wonder could see that there was something wrong with this program," said Burke, reminding the council and spectators that he had warned his colleagues about the dangers of the red light ticket program.
The two had a minor verbal squabble when Beale stated that each person involved in the class-action lawsuit would only receive $7. Burke immediately corrected Beale, stating that the amount would depend on the percentage of those opted in to the lawsuit—at most they’ll receive $42. Burke went further to rib on Beale’s CPS education.
It was an eventful meeting, and we’re excited to see what happens in the coming months with the implementation of the new public comment section. But we also wonder if the public will be speaking into the wind.
This summer, City Bureau reporters are collaborating with DataMade to look at Chicago’s City Council and how local legislation is influenced. If you have any tips or questions, leave a comment or contact us at email@example.com.
By Jennifer Simeone-Casas, Resita Cox and Sarah Conway
Court officials and North Lawndale community members gathered Thursday at the Nichols Center (3605 W. Fillmore St.) to cut the ribbon on a new type of court that doesn’t hand down prison sentences: Illinois’s first Restorative Justice Community Court.
This summer, City Bureau reporters will follow the progress of the court—one of 10 restorative justice projects nationwide supported by the Department of Justice—and document community attitudes toward the program. Here is what we know so far:
Like its name suggests, the court operates off principles of restorative justice, an alternative to the country’s standard incarceration system.
“This is about the community,” said Judge Colleen Sheehan, who will be presiding over the court. “The community has the power to determine how to heal the harm from crime and conflict. It is the community that has the wisdom and humanity to do this.”
This resolution is decided within a “peace circle,” a conflict resolution technique with a long history in American Indian culture—and a strong presence in Chicago, especially the North Lawndale neighborhood. Trained North Lawndale residents will facilitate the court’s circles, creating a nonjudgmental space of mutual respect where victims and community stakeholders can explain how the crime impacted them, and the accused can share what led them to commit the crime. The goal is to reach a solution that will restore both victim and offender to the community.
“Once the harm has been repaired, the case will be dismissed,” Sheehan said. “This court provides a way for the defendant to take responsibility for the harm they have caused without losing opportunities that often come with a felony conviction.”
Sheehan and the court’s Social Service Department will make decisions on community-based sentences and treatment for the defendants.
The new court’s defendants must be between 18 and 26 years old, live in North Lawndale, charged with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor, have no violent criminal history and be willing to accept responsibility for harm done.
Chief Judge Timothy Evans said court organizers chose to focus on young adults who are not eligible for juvenile court but are still cognitively developing. “They suffer from the same syndrome that plagues our juveniles — they often embrace risk-taking activities and don’t consider the complications that flow from those kinds of sensation-seeking activities,” he noted.
While the court only pulls from a small candidate pool in North Lawndale, Evans hopes to eventually expand to other neighborhoods like Roseland and Englewood.
The Restorative Justice Community Court has yet to find a permanent home, but for now it will be housed at the Nichols Center, headquarters of Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network. UCAN, which moved to the neighborhood in 2015, is a social service agency for youth who have suffered trauma.
“The hope is to have another location in the neighborhood,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. “The only way that this works is if it is easily accessible to the people who will use this court and those are the people in the neighborhood.”
After three years of planning, the court finally has an opening date. “It has been an ever-evolving process: Where are we going to find the building? How do we staff the building? How do we screen the cases?” Foxx explained.
Cases have yet to be selected, but court officials said they expect to serve about 100 defendants in the first year. It doesn’t sound like a lot, admitted Cliff Nellis, the executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center. “[But] this has never been done before. The court will only be operating one day a week; it’s not like we’re going to jump in and take 1,000 cases the first day. It’s going to be a trickle because we really want to learn as we go.”
The Circuit Court of Cook County received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance to fund the court. It was one of 10 similar grants from the federal agency, totaling $2 million in assistance across the country.
The guidelines for who can be served by the court are in part dictated by the grant’s restrictions. For example, the grant does not allow courts to hear gun cases, said Jeramey Winfield, a restorative justice practitioner at Lawndale Christian Legal Center.
But, he added, there is room for expansion: “The community and the system is so committed to the process, that after the grant has come and gone, we still anticipate continuing with the court … At that point we will revisit what types of case we are taking based on the needs of the community.”
A City Bureau reporting team will be covering the progress of this court, community reactions and related stories throughout the summer. Have a tip, suggestion or question? We want to hear about it! Let us know here, via email or call/text us at 312–361–0881.
City Bureau was 1 of 20 projects chosen to carry out the mission Democracy Fund Associate Director Josh Stearns laid out at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix on June 22.
In moments of uncertainty and volatility it can be tempting to gravitate towards a single solution to the pressing problem of misinformation and low public trust facing our media, technology, and democracy. However, when it comes to rebuilding the public square and ensuring what is shared is accurate information there are no silver bullets. As such, the projects receiving funding today represent a wide array of ideas and approaches from cognitive psychology and community engagement to computer science and news literacy.
–Josh Stearns, Democracy Fund
Our Documenters program is in its infancy, but it’s already building local trust—not just by producing content, but by involving the public in the journalistic production process itself.
Here’s how the program works:
We’ll start by addressing the clear barrier to expanding our Documenters program: the need for a platform to assist in the management and coordination of our growing Documenters network.
Since we launched the program in June 2016, we’ve received more than 200 applications and 50 applicants have attended an orientation. (The most recent was June 22 at our Public Newsroom, which hosts free weekly workshops at our newsroom on the South Side of Chicago.)
That workshop, like the orientations and trainings we host for our Documenters, shows the need we hope to support. We believe people want to be engaged in civic life — the problem is often that they haven’t been invited to the table. As journalists, we can bridge the gap between opaque civic processes that are largely inaccessible to the average person. Our Documenters program is a means of democratizing the tools and information needed to engage local citizens.
In addition to offering skills-exchange sessions and trainings, we hope to connect people with the information they need to leverage power, inform their neighbors and build trust with our news organization. We pay Documenters around $15/hour because we believe it’s a worthy investment, and we respect the time our Documenters put into strengthening their communities despite their busy schedules.
We’re honored to have been awarded a $50,000 Prototype Fund grant. Out of 800-plus incredible applications, we’re grateful that the selection committee at Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund (see: The Local News Lab) saw the potential of our Documenters program — and, more importantly, the power of our Documenters.
Over the next nine months, we’ll continue planning the online platform that will ultimately allow us to spread our Documenters model further. We’ll talk to members of the public, media organizations, technologists, organizers, funders, community groups and anyone else who wants to shape the future of civic journalism with us. We’ll post regular updates on our progress — both our successes and shortcomings — and we’ll create a handbook to share our findings, processes and structures with the public.
On June 15, civil rights leader, educator and oral historian Timuel Black joined author Audrey Petty in conversation at the Public Newsroom, hosted by Build Coffee. Black spoke for nearly two hours, answering questions from Petty and then from the audience, and talked about growing up in Chicago, his experiences in World War II, his thoughts on the importance of hearing oral history from primary sources and much more.
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Thanks to all who came! If you missed it, or want to revisit Timuel Black and Audrey Petty’s words, here’s an audio recording of the event:
Want to stay up to date on the #PublicNewsroom? Join our Facebook group.
Creative disruption is a concept often used in business to describe companies that are “uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day.” The theory originated from Harvard business school professor Clayton Christensen’s analysis of how the Japanese auto companies “disrupted” the American industry. Other examples include how Airbnb or Uber have reimagined their respective industries to make them, some would argue, more efficient. In media, one recent example of a disruptor is Buzzfeed, whose listicles and savvy use of social media has reshaped the way we look at digital news. But what does it mean to disrupt local news? And how can this disruption make local journalism more of a public good?
Disruption can happen as a result of circumstance or of choice. For example, the shift from print to digital information-sharing, especially in the context of advertising, has disrupted the journalism industry by circumstance. This has forced most media companies to re-evaluate their revenue models, and has contributed (among many other factors) to the demise of countless news organizations.
Meanwhile, at City Bureau, we choose to disrupt processes within journalism that are barriers to inclusivity and accountability. In our endeavor to build strong relationships with our audience, we disrupt processes that perpetuate harmful reporting and create community distrust. Disruption does not mean destruction. For us, disruption is the first step on the way to repair.
Our mission is to bridge the ideals of civic journalism with the social and economic realities in which it exists. That means we wish to make journalism more democratic, more of a public good—an ideal that existed long before City Bureau joined that fray. So we want to be clear about our desire to repair (rather than solely disrupt) the media landscape, building healthy relationships for the long-term sustainability of the industry.
What does all of this mean in practice? City Bureau’s Documenters program is a prime example. We developed this program out of our April 2016 partnership with the Smart Chicago Collaborative. We recruit engaged residents of various skill sets who care about their communities and want to see better, more accurate public information. So far we have onboarded roughly 50 of our more than 200 applicants to officially become Documenters. These freelancers have attended dozens of public meetings and have helped with City Bureau’s community engagement events.
This work will continue to be tested and refined because the issues we care about are not rigid; they are living.
We are curious about the work you are doing that is disruptive and/or reparative in media. What processes are you stopping in order to reflect and reimagine?
As a part of our collaboration with Free Spirit Media, reporting fellows from City Bureau partner with student journalists to cover public meetings. Mike, Sterling and I chose to attend a community meeting this spring about the impact of the Obama Presidential Library, hosted by 1Woodlawn at Apostolic Church of Christ, a mere two blocks away from City Bureau’s office.
The group sponsoring the meeting, the Network of Woodlawn, often pops up on my Facebook feed, likely because of my community engagement work for StoryCorps and because I’m a nearby resident.
We arrived early to discuss how we would approach the meeting to accomplish our individual and collective reporting goals. Mike and Sterling needed to generate some story ideas; I needed to make sure they achieved that while also balancing my personal interest in the topic at hand. In addition, Mike was documenting the meeting as a part of our Documenters program.
I pulled out my laptop to show a video clip of Dr. Bryon T. Brazier, the church’s pastor and chairman of the Network of Woodlawn, discussing the meeting earlier that week on Fox32. Years prior to the Obama Presidential Library announcement, community stakeholders began meeting to build a community plan for “education, safety, economic development and health and human services.” The focus this night would be on displacement and gentrification, community benefits agreements and the Woodlawn Community Master Plan.
We found it interesting that a community-led organization would invite development. It was downright impressive for 400 to 500 people to show up committed to the same idea. As a nearby resident, I had my own thoughts and questions about the course development could take; however, my job as a journalist was to understand why the community organized itself, which stakeholders had a seat at the table and what the concerns were for the vision of Woodlawn from the diverse perspectives in the room.
With an unexpected half-hour pushback in start time, the students and I sat and talked with people at the banquet tables. We began with an open-ended line of questioning, “So, why did you come to tonight?” When we introduced ourselves and why we were there, most people were eager to talk to us.
I approached this event differently from a standard interview, instead trying to facilitate a dialogue among the community members, Mike, Sterling and I. If I had knowledge of what they are talking about, I would give an honest observation; if not, I’d probe for more nuance. It was in that manner that I found out that the Apostolic Church of Christ had been redeveloping Woodlawn since the 1980s under the leadership of the late Reverend Brazier, father of the current pastor. That little detail was of tremendous value. It helped us understand why the community meeting was held at this particular church, alluding to its authority — tangible and symbolic — in the neighborhood. When Mike introduced himself, he made a point of saying he wasn’t coming in with a predetermined angle but wanted to report on what what he observed. Sterling covered the meeting on social media and also queried attendees. When Reverend Brazier and his management consultant Jada Russell made their rounds, they spoke with Mike and Sterling longer than other attendees because of their unique status as youth and press, two demographics they are looking to further include as their plans unfold.
I made a point to talk to the people around me — not just the ones formally recognized on the agenda. Many of these folks bore their own stakes and responsibilities as residents, block club members, community gardeners, parents and educators. These are faces of the impacted, too. Presenting myself as someone curious enough and humble enough to value their voices is a major part of connecting to the heart the matter, too.
Daweed Scully, an urban planner for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, introduced the master plan with the recognition that for black and brown neighborhoods, development is often equivalent to displacement and gentrification. The room murmured in agreement. This master plan was to be different, he said. It was to be “a Woodlawn plan built on your ideas.”
1Woodlawn is set to release their completed master plan at community meeting this July. Residents are encouraged to return and share their hopes and fears then.
After nearly 30 years of working operating machinery at incinerator sites for the City Of Chicago, Sam Taylor realized it was time to retire—for his health and peace of mind.
“The doctor said I’ve got to sit down, and that’s just what I’ve done: sat myself down,” the 63-year-old says.
The long-time Chicagoan went to school, married, and raised his kids on the West Side. He says he could see the smoke emerging from the chimneys of the Northwest Incinerator long before he did any work there. “All I knew was that they took garbage there and they burned it,” he says.
As a Streets and Sanitation employee from 1981 to 2011, Taylor worked primarily at the Southwest Incinerator site located at 34th and Lawndale, From time to time however he would be called up to work at the Northwest Incinerator, at Chicago and Kilbourn.
“I went from sorter, to operator, to handling heavy equipment, machine holding, loading the garbage on the truck and taking it to the landfill,” he remembers. “I saw everything come through. I saw dead babies that people had put in the garbage. I found body parts, tons of guns. We found guns every day.”
Taylor recalls when hazardous waste would come into the sites, and admits he was often concerned for his safety.
“There were times when there would be toxic waste and they would have to shut the place down because people couldn’t breathe,” says Taylor. “They had to clear the building out. Sometimes this happened once a month.”
His wife was no big fan of his occupation—for that reason and more.
“I would come home from being around the incinerator, and my wife would say ‘stop right there,’” he says, laughing. “She had a place for me to put my shoes and your coat out there, because ‘you smell like the incinerator.’”
Though the Northwest Incinerator was originally welcomed to the area when it was built in 1971, public perception of the industrial site began to sour. At the same time, automation technology changed the workforce: people were no longer needed to sort the waste by hand. Taylor explains, “When they were doing the sorting they had like 20 people at each station... [but then] they cut down on the jobs, so maybe you got like five, two people in one station.”
Local activists worried about environmental issues formed a coalition called WASTE (the Westside Alliance for a Safe and Toxic-free Environment) and lobbied against the incinerator, which eventually closed in 1996.
“Nobody wants to lose a job. Everybody needs money. There were a few sad faces but, you know, some people got relocated, and those people they felt weren’t working out just got laid off,” Taylor says.
He stayed with Streets and Sanitation long enough to see the city implement the Blue Cart recycling program in 2007, a service that provides residents living in single-family, two-, three- or four-flat buildings with blue carts to place their recyclable trash. Taylor remains skeptical about whether this system is effective.
“My sense was that it wasn’t working,” Taylor says, “People put anything in those blue cans without even thinking about it.”
Taylor’s been retired for six years now, but he doesn’t sit idle. When he isn’t doing community organizing along with his wife, Angela, he is maintaining the couple’s 36 gardens on the city’s Northwest Side. The one he frequents the most features a greenhouse and a chicken coop in the back of their West Garfield Park home.
Reflecting on his post-retirement life, Taylor recognizes the irony of what his everyday activity has now become.
“I went from garbage to greenery,” he says with a laugh. “My focus now are these gardens and promoting healthy food.”
The interview is now a Real Chi Youth podcast about how Chicago youth are affected by violent crimes streamed on Facebook Live. The episode explores whether Facebook has the responsibility to curb violence on its popular live streaming platform.
Corli and Jhordan developed the podcast during a City Bureau/Real Chi Youth mentorship meet-up every Wednesday at Free Spirit Media’s office in Homan Square this spring.
The trio met up for cold iced coffees at Dark Matter’s Star Lounge to reflect on the high and low points of their Father Pfleger interview at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham early this month.
Sarah: Why did you choose Father Pfleger as your subject for a podcast on violent crimes caught on Facebook Live?
Corli: I saw that Father Pfleger had written about the negative effects of Facebook Live on his personal Facebook page so we felt ultimately this was a really timely interview for the subject at hand.
Jhordan: We also liked that Father Pfleger is a well-known Chicago activist and very active in the community.
Sarah: How did you approach Father Pfleger for the interview?
Corli: I asked Jeff McCarter [founder and executive director of Free Spirit Media] to connect us with Father Pfleger as we were really interested in interviewing him for our podcast. He reached out Father Pfleger by email. Jhordan and I were both really happy to hear that Father Pfleger was excited to interview with us.
Sarah: How did you prepare for the interview?
Jhordan: One of the first steps was to conduct a test run interview in our recording room [at Free Spirit Media]. But we really ended up doing the interview better live.
Corli: We also came up with questions for the interview during the City Bureau mentorship, and of course we did a pre-recording of our intro and outro.
Sarah: Looking back at the interview, what were some of the most important questions you asked Father Pfleger?
Corli: There were a few. I asked him about the first time he witnessed a crime on Facebook Live and his reaction to it — that was an important question for me. I also asked Father Pfleger if Facebook Live does more harm than good, and why people watch crimes and don’t do anything.
Sarah: Were these the most challenging moments during the interview?
Jhordan: Father Pfleger wasn’t well rounded on the topics that we brought to him, and he couldn’t provide an answer outside of what would be expected from someone of his stature as a public figure. One of the challenging moments for me was when I asked him to describe the mental state of a person committing these types of crimes on live streaming apps and he couldn’t really answer. It made me wish that we had some insight from a psychologist at that point.
Sarah: Do you feel this was a typical response that a public figure gives to a tough question?
Corli: Definitely. He’s both a public figure and an activist. You have public figures who try to save face so that they don’t get in too much trouble with public statements.
Jhordan: Yes, absolutely. I feel like for most public figures there is an image and standard that is held on them. Some of their followers might take a genuinely blunt answer and blow it out of proportion, which leads to this beating around the bush.
Sarah: In hindsight, would you have chosen someone else for your podcast?
Corli: No, I like that he is so well-known and it raises the profile of our podcast.
Jhordan: Same here. He is at the end of the day a strong public figure in this city and his voice matters to a lot to people.
What were the highlights of the interview?
Jhordan: I would have to say it was Father Pfleger’s ability to listen. I appreciated how he individualized us, and gave us his full, undivided attention to record the podcast in his church.
Corli: For me, I liked that he was invited by Facebook to attend a special panel on live streaming violence, which validates why we chose him as the focus of our podcast. It made me respect the fact that he was able to back up the level of activism connected to his name.
Sarah: What was the significance of recording in St. Sabina?
Corli: It made us feel special that he opened up this huge church just for our interview. St. Sabina is really a safe haven in my neighborhood.
Sarah: How would you improve the interview in hindsight?
Jhordan: I feel like maybe we should have had more open-ended questions. This could have made the podcast more conversational.
Corli: I agree. I don’t think I had enough time to ask all the questions that I wanted. I also think that we could have had a conversation with Father Pfleger ahead of the interview to smooth out the vision of the podcast.
On May 11, we gathered at Build Coffee for Public Newsroom #17 to talk with Tonika Johnson, an Englewood-based photographer who captures images of Englewood and its residents that challenge typical media narratives about the neighborhood.
See social media posts from our audience below and weigh in here via comments or online using the #PublicNewsroom hashtag. Many thanks to everyone who attended and helped live-tweet from our South Side newsroom—your support helps us continue Public Newsroom conversations with new voices in Chicago.
After doing full group introductions, we filled out worksheets to get us thinking about insider and outsider perceptions of our own communities.
Then we came up with a list of words usually associated with Englewood. Audience members talked about how perceptions and realities of Englewood compared with perceptions and realities of their own communities.
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Then, Tonika showed some of her photography and talked about her work, especially about how it differed from the previously discussed outsider perspectives of Englewood.
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Then, the audience asked Tonika questions about her photography and discussed strategies for making sure storytelling accurately captures communities. Here are some solutions from our audience:
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Our team of four City Bureau reporters — Martha Bayne, LaCreshia Birts, Darien Boyd, and Amber Colon Nunez — is focusing this spring on the site of the former Northwest Incinerator and the neighborhoods surrounding it.
We are intrigued that, despite the great deal of attention focused on the incinerator while it was active between 1971 and 1996, and its proximity to residential neighborhoods, community knowledge about this industrial site on the border of West Humboldt Park and Austin is so fractured. What it was once, what it is now, and what it could be in the future is, to many we spoke with, a source of mystery, confusion, or simply ancient history.
This spring we’re meeting with local groups and other stakeholders to explore not just the site itself, but what it means to shape future development, who gets that access, and how it might be expanded. To start off we’ll share five things we’ve learned so far.
Opened in 1971 at 740 N. Kilbourn, the Chicago Northwest Waste-to-Energy Facility, aka the Northwest Incinerator, only operated for 25 years, but was, for a time, the largest incinerator in North America, capable of burning 400,000 tons of garbage a year. It was shut down in 1996, thanks to both pressure from local environmental activists, who responded in force after the incinerator failed Environmental Protection Agency testing in 1993, and the repeal that year of the controversial Retail Rate Law, which had provided a financial incentive to private incinerator operators. With that incentive gone, the cost of upgrading the incinerator to meet Clean Air Act standards proved prohibitive, and the facility was closed by Mayor Richard M. Daley.
When it opened, during the long tenure of Mayor Richard J. Daley, incineration of solid waste was believed to be an environmentally sound alternative to landfills, and the pollution-mitigating technology of the facility was state of the art for the time. But according to witness reports, the smoke from its chimneys often smelled extremely foul. Says Marie Henderson, longtime owner of Out of the Past Records at 4407 W. Madison, “I didn’t notice when it shut down, I just noticed that the air got better.” According to DePaul soil scientist James Montgomery, who visited the site in 1993, a visible layer of soot coated the ground and windows around the incinerator.
A study by the Center For Neighborhood Technology reports that in 1994 the facility’s smokestacks emitted 17 pounds of lead per hour, and a health screening in Austin at the time found that 1,638 children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. We are still seeking information about lead levels in the soil around the incinerator site, but soil testing in the neighborhood the early ’90s showed levels of lead high above EPA standards of contamination. Whether the lead came from the incinerator or from, say, lead paint chipping off nearby houses, is not known. We do know that lead levels in water fountains at nearby Orr Academy High School tested at 16 percent above EPA action levels last year; water at some area parks has tested as high as 100 percent above action levels.
Activists’ hopes for the creation of a comprehensive recycling or composting facility on the site never came to fruition, though for a time the site was used as a sorting facility for the short-lived Blue Bag recycling program. Today the site is owned by the city, and used as a waste transfer station contracted to Marina Cartage. As recently as 2016 proposals were reportedly circulating among West Side business owners for possible mixed-use redevelopment at the site; the status of those plans is to date unknown.
The incinerator building itself was demolished in 2015 (see above video), but its towering twin 250-foot chimneys remain a striking local landmark. Said one area business owner we spoke with, “Those chimneys just say ‘West Side’.”
What else should we know about the incinerator site? What would you like to know about it?
Share your memories of the Northwest Incinerator, and tell us what questions you want answered about its past, present and future: Text the word NORTHWEST to 312–697–1791. Or, you can leave a comment here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of 90 Days, 90 Voices are, in various ways, born of the immigrant experience, living it today and raising the country’s next generation of children born to immigrant parents.
They have something else in common: they’re all former City Bureau reporters.
We couldn’t be more excited about the 90 Days, 90 voices project, in part, because we didn’t have a role in its emergence. Our program alums met during City Bureau’s Fall 2016 reporting cycle and went on to independently produce a project that embodies the journalistic values we share.
In 90 Days, 90 Voices, you’ll find amazing stories of immigrants and refugees building their lives in the U.S. in spite of a hostile White House. Stories like that of Tango dancer, log cabin builder and Syrian immigrant Jafra Saif; Malak Afaneh, who blends “American patriotism and [her] Muslim ideals” through her design of a Muslim Rosie the Riveter T-shirt; and Abdinasir Kahin, a Somali torture survivor who found a home in the U.S. with the help of Chicagoans who opened their hearts to him.
Beyond that, you’ll find the fruits of a connection made in City Bureau’s South Side newsroom, more than six months ago.
We think that the most exciting thing about collective journalism is that it creates strong relationships between reporters and the communities they cover. And, it creates connections between the journalists themselves. By giving our Reporting Fellows ownership of their own projects, and by encouraging entrepreneurship within the newsroom, something new can emerge—a more balanced and equitable collaboration between journalists, communities and the broader public. We believe in looking beyond the folks directly participating in our programs to create a network of engaged, responsive individuals who are able and willing to take on difficult questions within their own spheres of influence.
90 Days, 90 Voices tells the stories of those seeking a home in the United States during an age of unrest, and we’re proud to consider it part of the extended City Bureau family.
Join City Bureau and 90 Days, 90 Voices on April 27—the 90th day since President Donald Trump signed an executive order that barred citizens of seven countries from coming to the United States—for a workshop at our Public Newsroom. The 90-minute session will offer a look into 90 Days, 90 Voices reporters’ favorite stories, tips for covering immigration issues and celebrate the storytelling project’s work.
You’ll also have a chance to add your own voice to the project and meet some of the immigrants featured in 90 Days, 90 Voices media.
Here’s more from the 90 Days team:
Three months ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that barred citizens of seven countries from coming to the United States for 90 days and all refugee admissions for 120 days. Syrians, who make up 1 out of every 6 refugees in the world today, were indefinitely banned.
In response to the ban, three Chicago journalists (Sarah Conway, Alex Hernandez and Nissa Rhee) founded 90 Days, 90 Voices — a storytelling project about those seeking a home in the United States during an age of unrest. Working with a diverse group of reporters, illustrators, photographers, and videographers, they are giving readers a glimpse into the hardships endured by more than 65 million refugees worldwide who are searching for dignity in the largest displacement crisis since World War II.
Thursday, April 27 marks 90 days since the executive order was signed. Come join the founders of 90 Days, 90 Voices at this special Public Newsroom event to hear some of their favorite stories, learn tips for covering immigration issues, and celebrate the storytelling project’s work.
Those who come will have the opportunity to add their own voice to the project and to meet some of the immigrants we have featured.
Food and drinks will be provided. Please RSVP so we know how much to bring.
First, the news: We’re thrilled to announce that City Bureau has received a $100,000 grant from the Voqal Foundation to continue its work creating equitable, community-centered coverage on Chicago’s South and West Sides. This comes on the heels of a generous $75,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation, an early supporter of City Bureau.
With these grants, Voqal and McCormick renew their commitment to supporting media that is from and for the public. We feel lucky to spend our days building an innovative model for participatory journalism by supporting the work of emerging, diverse and civically engaged journalists in Chicago—and we’re grateful for the financial support needed to continue that work.
We believe in paying people for their time and efforts, whether that’s making journalism, hosting community-centered events or serving as on-the-ground watchdogs in their community. Since City Bureau has started, we’ve devoted the vast majority of our funds to our programming, while relying on a small group of dedicated volunteers to manage administrative work. But with the success of our programs, we believe it’s time to grow—to take our proven strategies to a larger and larger audience.
Most immediately, operational funding from Voqal will allow our organization to hire two of City Bureau’s four co-founders, Andrea Hart (community engagement director) and Darryl Holliday (editorial director), to strategically expand our programming. As our organization expands, we hope to add more full- and part-time staff to help us grow and manage the burgeoning City Bureau network. Full-time employees like Darryl and Andrea ensure that growth will happen quickly and efficiently—while also pursuing more avenues of funding that will support even further expansion of our programs.
Speaking of expanding our programs: Journalists in our 10-week Reporting Fellowship are paid $15 to $20 an hour to produce local, community-centered reporting while mentoring young Chicago media-makers. Likewise, our Chicago-based Documenters program pays hourly for local community members to attend, record and disseminate information from public meetings, and our Public Newsroom pays a $50 stipend to our guest speakers and workshop hosts.
These numbers add up, but so do the public benefits. Since our launch in October 2015, our reporters have produced over 70 articles and mentored more than 70 youth mediamakers; City Bureau Documenters have completed 50 assignments; and our Public Newsroom has drawn hundreds of attendees to our South Side newsroom for inclusive dialogue, collective joy and skill-sharing events.
Additional staff and funds will also help us create a project we’ve long envisioned—creating a City Bureau Handbook that will document our programs, successes, stumbles, and everything in between. We firmly believe that the people at City Bureau are producing some of the most innovative work in local journalism; not just the content, but the different outreach strategies, including ways to talk to our audience while keeping our community involved in our work every step of the way.
That’s great if you’re hanging out at our newsroom (6100 South Blackstone Avenue) a few times a week (and hey, if you can, you should!) but we don’t want it to stop there. So we’re embarking on the Handbook project to create a wiki-style guide to building a civic journalism lab, based on the lessons learned at City Bureau, in your own city or town. Have specific questions you want answered or sections of the wiki that you want to make sure get written? Just let us know.
We believe that foundations have a critical role to play in maintaining the integrity and promise of a free press—but we believe sustainable business models and individual support are in the public’s best interest when it comes to funding a media landscape that is equitable, diverse, inclusive and robust.
For more on Voqal and the amazing group of organizations that were awarded grants along with City Bureau, please visit their website (below):
The Voqal Fund is pleased to announce six new grants to organizations working in the Chicago area to enhance the community and strengthen social equity. The grants to Chicago Filmmakers (Chicago Digital Media Production Fund), BYP100, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, City Bureau, State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and Illinois Humanities reflect Voqal Fund’s commitment to support progressive movements for social change.
Learn more about the work of the Voqal Fund by visiting the Voqal Fund webpage.
By Mindy Dillon, City Bureau Documenter
On Monday, March 13, Nissa Rhee of City Bureau hosted the first in a series of events designed to engage and educate Chicago residents about the dangers of lead in their communities. These events follow the publication of “Living with Lead,” a special edition of the South Side Weekly produced by City Bureau and published on December 14, 2016.
Eric Potash, University of Chicago researcher, and Dr. Howard Ehrman, former primary care and assistant commissioner in the Chicago Department of Public Health, joined Rhee, head of the team of journalists that produced this special edition, at Legler Library, 115 S. Pulaski Rd.
The lead experts explained how the current model for addressing lead exposure and lead poisoning in Chicago is reactive as opposed to preventative, and palliative instead of curative.
Potash explained that, currently, once a child tests positive for elevated blood levels, the city is notified and a Lead Investigating Unit attempts to make contact with the family. In this model, the city reacts to an exposure that has taken place and attempts to rectify a situation that has already caused damage. This effort is often hampered by insufficient funds and staff and an inability to establish contact with the families due to unreliable addresses or lack of response to phone calls. In his research, Potash is developing a model that would allow the city to use funds in a more efficient and targeted way to predict where children are most at risk and prevent the exposure in the first place.
Exposure prevention, according to Ehrman, has to be the goal, since no amount of lead is safe in the human body. Ehrman explained that while officials took the right steps by decreasing so-called “normal” rates from 60 to 5 micrograms per deciliter, lead is a neurotoxin that destroys brain cells and anything above zero is not normal. To put the danger in perspective for children on the West and South sides of Chicago, Ehrman explained that children in these communities have two times the risk of children in Flint, Michigan, which has made national news for the severity of health issues caused by high lead levels in its water supply.
Ehrman offered suggestions for individual and immediate action as well as communal and political action. As individuals, immediate steps can be taken:
Politically, Ehrman suggested that concerned citizens should organize, advocate for stricter laws on landlords, and demand that city officials look to the example set by Massachusetts and Wisconsin and others that are providing grants to property owners to fix, rather than simply mitigate, the problem by replacing service lines.
To be effective, communities should organize by block particularly around areas where water mains are being replaced, Ehrman said. He warned that the sudden rush to replace water mainlines could set the stage for the privatization of Chicago’s water supply—a step that some believe played a role in Flint’s health disaster.
In addition, Chicago needs tougher laws regulating landlords and a grant system to help citizens replace service lines which connect properties to the main water lines, Ehrman said. He suggested that citizens need to advocate for laws, like those in New York City that require landlords of any three-flat or larger building to test for lead every year. Chicago should also follow the lead of Boston and Madison, Wisconsin, that provide grants to property owners to help replace service lines.
Rhee opened the panel to audience questions. Sheila Sutton of the Metropolitan Tenant Organization (MTO) said she has issues with housing vouchers, which in some cases have resulted in worse living conditions, including increased exposure to lead, due to the lack of affordable housing in Chicago and lack of landlord oversight. MTO is contracted by the city to help test homes for lead. Sutton explained that the city has limited resources and will usually only respond to households with elevated lead tests if they have children under two or pregnant women living there.
Troy Hernandez, a Pilsen resident, said he is worried that testing does not actually solve the problem. He added that flushing the water for five minutes anytime the water has been standing in the service lines for an extended period is an effective preventative measure. This means flushing upon waking or returning home at night.
The panel adjourned with the consensus that while paint and dilapidated buildings are still the primary source of lead exposure, the whole lead ecosystem should be looked at and addressed.
The final “Living with Lead” workshop will be Saturday March 25 at 10:30am
at the Thurgood Marshall library, 7506 S. Racine Ave.
For starters, we’d like to lay out our motivation for this post in three parts:
We wanted to take some time and lay out our process when it comes to hiring our reporters as, in many ways, the direction of each “cycle” is defined by the people in our programs and the experiences they bring to the table. And if there’s one thing that’s become apparent since our launch in October 2015, it’s that hiring a diverse and, more importantly, inclusive set of journalists eager to do news differently doesn’t come without concerted effort (see our latest interview with Poynter for more on this point).
While we realize we won’t immediately reverse decades of marginalization and unequal hiring practices that have left most major newsrooms in the U.S. without a single reporter of color, we plan to make a dent in that sobering reality — not by counting heads, but by ensuring our newsroom feels, and is, open and inclusive for reporters of all ages, races and gender identities.
Below is a demographic breakdown of all City Bureau reporters since we began our programs last fall:
The majority of City Bureau programming centers on our reporting fellowship program, where journalists work together on stories and investigations. This program involves three groups that make up the community-to-mainstream media pipeline we hope to bolster on Chicago’s South and West sides:
We’ve designed an intensive interviewing and application process for our Team Leaders and Reporters. Over the course of the last year it’s been refined to focus on outreach, framing and selection, with the recent addition of a writing test for Reporters and a rolling application process for Team Leaders to ensure our doors are open to great story pitches all year-round.
We look for candidates who are interested in shifting media narratives — by that we mean telling a diverse range of stories with and among communities that have been historically edged out of vital public discourse. We look for candidates with a considerable connection to the South and West sides of Chicago regardless of race/ethnicity. We look for candidates of color. We look for non-traditional journalists, i.e. those who may not have come through j-school. And we look for candidates who are explicitly interested in sharing their skills freely and openly with the public.
Since our October 2015 launch, applications to our program have risen steadily. That’s in large part due to our continual community outreach, through our town halls and regular “Reporting in the Open” events. By partnering with local groups, we’re constantly expanding our network and giving due credit to the hard-working organizations that have laid the foundation for civic media in Chicago. We promote our program application through this burgeoning City Bureau network, folks on our newsletter, former City Bureau reporters, Twitter and Facebook, among others. Our last cycle we received 45 applications for 9 openings — we expect more for the Spring cycle.
Beyond the baseline criteria listed above, we leave room for surprise and the unexpected application that makes us rethink our own approach. In our first cycle, former City Bureau reporter Jean Cochrane filed their application in the form of a truly insightful comic that you can read here.
Each week, our reporting teams mentor and work side-by-side with the young media-makers of our youth media partner organizations. As our Community Engagement Director, Andrea Hart puts it, our youth media partners may not be experienced in professional journalism but they’re often the most experienced in the themes and topics that we cover. We place a high value on mutual learning between our journalists and the youth we work with.
Like our Documenters program, City Bureau’s regular programming is intended to support civic engagement, in politics and everyday life. We want our newsroom to represent the wide variety of voices in Chicago — and to facilitate dialogue and shared experiences between the mainstream and the city’s most marginalized communities. It’s the same theory we bring to our reporting: supporting coverage and voices that otherwise might not get invited to the table.
Our reporters span a range of experiences, motivations and productions, from months-long investigations into police in schools to community-centered pieces from in our most under-reported neighborhoods to analysis of the policies that make up our way of life and multimedia storytelling on the everyday people who make up our city. Our reporters are committed to civic journalism from traditional text reporting to public events that showcase the latest skills, styles and ideologies that make up our local media landscape.
Applications for our Spring 2017 reporting cycle are open until March 1, and our next cycle starts March 29, in the meantime we’re shaping our paid Documenters program and our Public Newsroom, which offers professional development, workshops, event coverage and other opportunities during and between cycles in partnership with out friends at the South Side Weekly (see our #TaskForceTracker and #IPRAtracker projects for examples of how we plan to employ our Documenters — and see the full application here if you already know you’re interested).
For those not accepted to the program on any given cycle, we have some sage advice: please apply again! We’ve been fortunate to have more applicants than we could possibly accept for each cycle —and we love it when our repeat reporters stay on board to train newcomers to our program. We encourage all applicants to re-apply as many times as they’d like.
Are you interested in working with City Bureau? Or just interested in talking shop? We’re here to help. Hit us up at email@example.com, fill out our Documenters application or find us online, on Facebook, on Twitter and, as always, here on Medium.