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Civic Journalism

Why We’re Creating the Press Club, City Bureau’s Membership Program

Join us in our commitment to reimagining local journalism. Plus: from now until Dec. 31, your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $1,000.

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.

Join the Press Club / Make a Donation

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.

Join the Press Club / Make a Donation

  • Want to tell us, face-to-face, what you think about the Press Club? We’re hosting a Public Newsroom on Oct. 12, with the help of Emily Goligorski of the Membership Puzzle Project, to get your early feedback and incorporate it into our program.
  • Celebrate the launch of our membership program with us on Nov. 2 at the Soap Box Ball.

A Media Model For Chicago

Notes, tweets and worksheets on envisioning a thriving media landscape, from City Bureau’s Public Newsroom #33

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:


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.

Blanca Rios, Sheila Solomon, Scott Smith and Darryl Holliday

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:

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Overall, feedback from Public Newsroom #33 was earnest and affirming—City Bureau Community Engagement Director Andrea Faye Hart may have summed it up best:


Some last housekeeping notes:

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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Disruptors or Repairers? How City Bureau Fits in the Local Media Landscape

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?

Above: The above diagram is from a local media ecosystem design workshop I hosted as part of news consulting work I am doing for Democracy Fund. Photo Credit: Josh Stearns

The media industry has seen plenty of disruption. City Bureau wants to do more than just that.

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.

Above: City Bureau hosts an intergenerational Documenters training session at the Greater Grand Crossing Library. Photo Credit: Andrea Hart

What are the Documenters disrupting?

  • Single-note, often negative coverage of the South and West Sides. Documenters assignments span this area and cover a variety of public meetings about education, environment, criminal justice reform and much more. They are gathering and sharing more complete information about these neighborhoods than many citywide media outlets.
  • The high barrier of entry to becoming a journalist. We often speak with community members who find the journalism industry opaque and careers unattainable, since experience is typically gained through unpaid internships or expensive degrees. The Documenters program offers an alternate path.
  • Traditional information sharing systems. Documenters’ reports create a digital archive of public meetings that otherwise might go unnoticed.

What are Documenters repairing?

  • Community distrust of media. By inviting everyone into the process of information gathering, we engender more trust and understanding of how and why journalists do what they do.
  • The process through which community members can hold media accountable. The program gives people a direct line through which to ensure events are properly documented and can be used by anyone (journalist or otherwise) to pursue more in-depth research and stories.

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?

Why We Love 90 Days, 90 Voices

How a group of City Bureau alums turned a relationship built in our newsroom into an independent reporting series on immigration in America.

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.

How We Hire Our Reporters

Notes on process, inclusion and Chicago’s media ecosystem

For starters, we’d like to lay out our motivation for this post in three parts:

  1. You’ve asked us (thanks for your interest!)
    2) Rather than being a program or initiative; diversity, inclusion and transparency are at the heart of City Bureau’s mission
    3) We’re inspired by the amazing work of our partners and friends (please see “How We Hire Our Youth? An Expose” from the Mikva Challenge Blog and Hearken’s “More Than Fluff: Dismantling Journalism’s Hard News Bias” for some examples from our reading list.)

As we ramp up toward our fifth cycle…

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:

Here are race, age and gender identity demographics of City Bureau reporters from fall 2015 to summer 2016

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:

  • Our Team Leaders, i.e. our most experienced journalists
  • Our Reporters, i.e. those with some writing/reporting training but minimal professional experience
  • Young media-makers and policy analysts from our youth media partner organizations (this summer: high school-aged youths from Free Spirit Media, IMPACT Family Center and Mikva Challenge). These participants are not included in our demographics above because we do not directly hire them — more info on this below.

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.

So, what’s next?

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, fill out our Documenters application or find us online, on Facebook, on Twitter and, as always, here on Medium.

How Chicago Could Change the Way Police Use Force: 12 Responses from Our Readers

Here’s what you, through our Use of Force Tracker, told the Chicago Police Department about their drafted rules on when police can and cannot use force against civilians.

City Bureau/Invisible Institute

When the Chicago Police Department released a draft of revised Use of Force policies, City Bureau and the Invisible Institute decided to create a tool to make it easier for people to read the draft, understand the context and add their own feedback. In total, over 50 comments, upvotes and responses were logged via our interactive, annotated Use of Force Tracker tool by members of the public during the CPD’s public comment period. (See a full list of comments here.)

Below, we pulled out 12 of those suggestions. For more information, click the link in each comment and see the full annotation.

  1. On reasonable use of force: “The standard of reasonableness must be explicitly defined as reasonableness from the perspective of a citizen. There is a large—and growing — disconnect between what officers view as reasonable and what citizens view as reasonable. This is a concrete change that encourages empathy.”
  2. On choke holds: “A better definition of choke holds is needed. Also, chokes may be necessary to preserve life in the case of a subject who is under the influence of drugs and not responding to pain control. The choke, properly executed, can save the life of an officer and the subject is such a situation.”
  3. On medical attention for those injured by police: “This [directive] would seem to imply that the department will now be required to provide medical training to all officers, equip them with the necessary equipment, and ensure that all training and equipment will remain up-to-date.”
  4. On officer testimony: “There is quite a bit of research that shows that after a traumatic situation such as a deadly force encounter, full recall of an incident may not be possible immediately. The fight-or-flight response may include tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and impairment of judgment, to name a few. Those who have experienced those symptoms may not be in a position to immediately provide complete details. This policy should be examined closely.”
  5. On holding techniques and passive resistance: Why are holding techniques permissible for a passive resister who is solely resisting verbally? Verbal resistance should not warrant use of force.”
  6. On the code of silence: “Given the gravity of a violation of use of force, I think it is necessary to identify the sworn member who is using force in violation of this directive as soon as possible.”
  7. On police officers identifying themselves as officers: “This [directive] is unacceptable. Officers should always have to identify themselves if they are on the job and being paid to do said job. Not identifying themselves at all times escalates situations further and jeopardizes the safety of both the community and officer. This must be changed.”
  8. On de-escalation training and techniques: “The de-escalation training for officers has not been effective thus far as Chicago is still paying out millions of dollars of tax payer money to settle cases of use of force. De-escalation is NOT shouting “put the gun down” three or four times before shooting. All CPD officers should be required to take de-escalation training form a licensed clinician (LPC, LCPC, LCSW etc) and NOT a higher ranking officer or employee employed by CPD. Consequently, conflict resolution training should also be included. Additionally, ALL officers should be mandated to spend time in the communities they serve — specifically on the south and west sides of Chicago — off duty and unarmed with the intention of interacting with the community in some form or fashion so they are able to understand how members of the community act, how conflict occurs and how conflict is resolved.”

9) On proportional response: “‘Proportional’ needs to be explicitly defined so that all officers are clear. Shooting to kill — which has been what has been occurring lately — is not proportional. The use of a Taser to incapacitate a suspect is proportional. Shooting a suspect in the leg is proportional. Emptying a clip on a suspect out of fear is not proportional.”

10. On race and ethnicity in use of force:

11. On use of force against pregnant women: “Based on policies in other jurisdictions, and a number of incidents involving use of force against pregnant women by Chicago police officers, the policy should expressly prohibit use of force on pregnant women and children, including, but not limited to, use of Tasers, take downs, use of force to the abdomen and rear handcuffing.”

12. On community/police relations: “‘Cooperation’ simply means bowing to the power and being acquiescent. “Collaboration” would be more appropriate, but of course that would require a balanced power level between police and community.”

10 Ways Chicago Might Change the Way Police Use Force: Shootings, Taser, Pepper Spray, and More

We collected feedback and submitted it directly to the Chicago Police Department on shootings, Tasers, pepper spray, and more.

(City Bureau)

Throughout October/November 2016, City Bureau and the Invisible Institute’s new interactive Use of Force Tracker tool gave the public an inside look at how the Chicago Police Department might change its Use of Force policy, or, rules on when police can inflict harm upon civilians.

This was the first time the CPD opened up a draft review process to public comment. Until then, our #UOFtracker is here to break down the legal—at times obscure—text to offer a view of how Use of Force Guidelines have affected the lives of Chicago residents in the past, and how you can impact the police department draft going forward.

As part of our civic journalism work—which includes a reporting fellowship, a #PublicNewsroom and our Documenters programwe use Genius to demystify some heavy material. The 10 annotations below were written and chosen by City Bureau Documenters to help the public understand what’s at stake.

Take a look—leave your own annotation. On November 19, we’ll submit all annotations left on the #UOFtracker to the CPD’s public comment system.

For a complete list of annotations, a side-by-side comparison of the old and new Use of Force guidelines and our source material, see the Use of Force Tracker here.

1. Sanctity of Human Life:

The directive: “The Department’s highest priority is the sanctity of human life. In all aspects of their conduct, Department members will act with the foremost regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved.”

Our notes:

2. Deadly Force Investigations:

The directive: “Deadly force incidents involving a Department member that result in a member of the public sustaining fatal or life-threatening injuries will be investigated consistent with the Department directive entitled “Officer-Involved Death Investigations.”

Our notes:

3. Emergency Medical Services After the Use of Force:

The directive :“Consistent with the Department’s commitment to the sanctity of life, after any use of force incident involving injury to Department members, bystanders, or subjects, Department members will immediately: comport themselves in a manner that conveys the gravity of any use of force and the Department members’ concern for the sanctity of life of all persons injured or in need of EMS.”

Our notes:

4. Police Policing Themselves:

The directive :“Duty to Intervene and Report. All Department members are obligated to ensure compliance by themselves and other members with Department regulations, policies, and the law. …Any Department member observing the use of force in violation of this directive will be responsible for intervening on the subject’s behalf. Appropriate actions may include, but are not limited to, verbal or physical intervention, immediate notification to a supervisor, or a direct order by a supervisor to cease the use of excessive force.”

Our notes:

(William Camargo/City Bureau)

5. What is ‘Objectively Reasonable’ Force:

The directive: “This directive…continues the concept of Force Mitigation as a component of the Department’s response to all incidents.”

Our notes:

6. Role of Chicago Police Investigation Agency:

The directive: “IPRA will be responsible for the administrative investigation of firearm-discharge incidents involving sworn members.”

Our notes:

7. 30-day Administrative Leave Following Firearm Discharge:

The directive: “Department members who have discharged a firearm as described in Item V of this directive and have completed the Traumatic Incident Stress Management Program will be placed in a mandatory administrative duty assignment for a minimum period of thirty days within the Department member’s unit of assignment.”

Our notes:

8. Firearm Discharge Protocol:

The directive: “This directive outlines the protocol for maintaining, carrying, and discharging a member’s Taser device.”

Our notes:

9. Taser Discharge:

The directive: “Post Discharge. After an initial discharge of a Taser, Department members will: …reasonably justify each separate deployment of energy from a Taser as a separate use of force that officers will document.”

Our notes:

10. Taser Training:

The directive: “Tasers will be carried, handled, tested, and deployed only by members who have completed Department-conducted training on their safe handling and deployment.”

Our notes:

This is What You Get for Reporting in the Open

Examples of the photo essay created during our Open House — see full set below. (Photos: Maria Cardona)

Finding the unexpected at a City Bureau open house

What do you get on a warm summer night when 100+ civic-minded journalists, artists and community folks gather at Chicago’s Experimental Station?

Something unexpected.

Adeshina Emmanuel, Bea Malsky and Latricia Polk present their stories about Chatham.

We had a great night at our Summer Open House. (We had gold, limited-edition, variant logo City Bureau buttons at our Summer Open House!) But, more importantly, we saw our reporters step out of their journalistic comfort zones and explore new ways to interact with their audience — from giving presentations to collecting questions via our friends at Hearken to engaging in earnest conversations about issues of critical importance to the city. All in our South Side newsroom.

If you want to see more work like this, please support us on Kickstarter.

But one of my personal favorite parts of the night came in a series of 22 moments built around a single prompt—an idea generated and led by our reporters. I’ll let them explain:

Last Friday Aug. 19, City Bureau held its Summer 2016 Reporting Cycle culmination event at 6100 S. Blackstone where attendees visited various interactive booths to learn about the investigations we’ve been working on.

Our team has been researching a story about the promises and failures of community policing in Chicago, and as part of our project, we asked attendees to answer the prompt, “What Should Police Know About You?” People wrote their answers on a bright-colored Post-It, and some participated in our photo essay, writing their thoughts on black-and-white portraits that we printed during the event.

At the beginning, some people were nervous about who would see these answers and whether they’d be judged for them. However, by the time the photo booth closed, 22 black-and-white photos were collected with messages that went beyond “What Should Police Know About You?” People wanted to shatter misperceptions of how they may be perceived on the surface by police.

-Andrea Salcedo and Manny Ramos (City Bureau Summer ‘16 Reporters)

Andrea, Maria and Manny

The following series by photographer Maria Cardona is one of many special interactions we found at our Summer Open House—some were curated and most were unexpected, but they’re all helping to guide our approach to journalism, civic engagement and reporting in the open.

The news reports from our Summer reporting teams will be published in the coming days and weeks but I wanted to take a minute to consider the unfiltered words of the friends, family, partners and followers who stopped by our newsroom August 19 to celebrate the work of our current cohort and the future of our public newsroom.

If you want to see more work like this, please support us on Kickstarter.

We’re Not Doing It Alone: How City Bureau Builds With Community Groups

City Bureau and IMPACT Family Center visit the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless on a recent field trip.

If you believe in the power of community, please consider contributing to our Public Newsroom campaign, and let’s reimagine media together.

Someone recently asked us: Do we think our journalists are solutions to some of the problems we see in Chicago?

We don’t think there is a single silver bullet to heal historic injustices in this city. Instead, we think that reimagining media within and alongside communities, particularly those who’ve been the most intentionally under resourced, can allow real solutions to surface. For us, it’s about being embedded in communities and paying homage to the groups that are already doing great things.

With every partnership — be it a neighborhood organization or larger institution — we ask the questions “what is it that you need?” and “how can we help?” in the first meeting. If we are to return journalism to its truest form of being a public good, there is a lot of distrust and historical injustice we have to acknowledge, and a lot of entrenched old habits in media organizations that we need to break. When we talk about building together, that means that City Bureau doesn’t take anything (whether it’s a piece of information, or access to an audience, or a group’s trust) without giving something back.

Step 1: Create a Place.

As we have designed our newsroom to address the above, we pulled inspiration from two of the city’s most influential youth spaces: Radio Arte and YOUmedia. (Full disclosure: I taught at Radio Arte in 2011 and 2012, as well as its sister organization Yollocalli Arts Reach)

Both groups embrace the concept of placemaking, building “vital public destinations” where people can gather and share a stake in improving the community, and apply it specifically to media and journalism.

Radio Arte’s frequency belonged to the community. The youth-led, Spanish and English radio station was the only one of its kind nationally. It was intimately rooted in the Chicago Latinx community, and that foundation created an intimate feel for listeners well beyond city limits. What’s more, it became a space for people to talk about complex societal issues, which grew community leaders.


Another critical component of our community embed model is mentoring — something the late Brother Mike Hawkins, a pioneering educator within YOUmedia, deeply understood. The youth media lab, based in Chicago Public Library branches, most famously helped to launch the career of Chance the Rapper and provided a platform and learning space for many young media makers who have gone on to succeed in their respective fields.


This summer we expanded our mentoring track and paired each of our reporting fellows with a youth media site: Free Spirit Media, IMPACT Family Center and Mikva Challenge. There, these journalists hung out with young people in their spaces to exchange skills and build relationships that translate into social capital.

City Bureau was able to give them access to better resources — like coordinating a field trip and intimate discussion with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, or providing deep contextual information to youth making police reform recommendations to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This past spring, some of our youngest cohort filmed a video that was published in the Guardian US along with a story reported and written by more senior reporters.

In the words of placemaking advocates, the “vital public destination” we are creating is a Public Newsroom. If YOUmedia could spark a music revolution, then imagine what a journalism space centered around similar values can do.

Step 2: Grow a Pipeline.

Community engagement and placemaking will help create the Public Newsroom, but the skills exchange that happens there has the potential for a longer-term impact on the industry. Diversity in media is a big topic in newsrooms across the country right now, but City Bureau puts inclusivity at the very heart of our operations — fostering connections with young people in neighborhoods where some of the nation’s biggest problems are on full display, but where very few professional journalists actually spend time beyond breaking news.

Not only does our mentorship program expand the social network of both our reporters and their mentees, it helps individuals recognize their own cultural capital. One example of this is our partnership with IMPACT in Roseland.

“The Far South Side is a service and resources desert compared to other areas of the city. This is the forgotten or ignored part of the city, although the crime and violence stats are comparable to Englewood,” IMPACT Family Center CEO and founder Marsha Eaglin told me. “The wealth of talent and possibilities are as rich as the North Side — just untapped and not cultivated.”

For seven weeks City Bureau reporting fellows conducted workshops on various journalistic skills while getting to know IMPACT’s students.

“Our youth definitely represent a community that is virtually voiceless, so teaching them skills and a means to allow their voices to be heard is not only great for now, but the real return on the investment is in the future. This was definitely evident this summer,” Eaglin added.

For City Bureau this is the first phase of connecting youth on the Far South Side to our network, in the hopes they will collaborate with the newsroom in some capacity — and if they want, start on the path to a professional journalism career. We’re not reinventing the wheel or coming into these spaces assuming that a pre-made model of journalism education will work in a completely new context.

As summer programs wrap, we are inviting all participants to join City Bureau’s Community Documenters team.

As we continue to remix our partnerships and test the capacity of this pipeline, we also are expanding opportunities to join our Documenters network (click to apply). Our Documenters program is a paid opportunity — open to the public — where people can learn basic reporting skills, make records of public meetings, do practical research and collaborate with journalists and other civic professionals.

If you believe in the power of community, please consider contributing to our Public Newsroom campaign, and let’s reimagine media together.

Donald Trump’s War on Reporters Is a Scary Reminder Why Community Media Matters

How do journalists rebuild public trust?

(Photo: Flickr/36593372@N04)

When Donald Trump announced Monday that his campaign would revoke all press credentials to the “phony and dishonest” Washington Post, I was not surprised. The newspaper that took down Richard Nixon joins a growing list of publications that the presumptive GOP nominee deems unfit to question him.

No politician embodies the hatred of journalists more blatantly—and proudly—than Trump. (“You’re a sleaze because you know the facts, and you know the facts well,” he said last month to an ABC reporter.) But more alarmingly, it’s not just Trump. Corporate CEOs, public officials on both sides of the aisle, and private citizens routinely discredit journalists in order to push whatever skewed “truth” is convenient for them. The news media has been the public’s punching bag for so long, it’s a common joke that the only people who are trusted less in this country than politicians are journalists themselves. (At last check, TV news and newspapers hold less public confidence than the Supreme Court or the presidency, but rank higher than the abysmally low Congress.) In a climate where few people are willing to stand up for the media, it’s not hard to see how the rich and powerful are quashing news organizations that dare to tell stories that displease them.

People may recognize the importance of press freedom and the First Amendment in theory, but in practice, too many are content to “blame the media” and leave it at that. (I won’t get into the problematic grouping of all so-called “media” together into one hateful blob—not today, at least.) And while I do think news organizations don’t get nearly as much credit as they should—I mean, did you hear about how the AP shut down an entire slavery ring last year?—that doesn’t mean it’s enough to rest on our laurels.

In the neighborhoods where City Bureau works, many people are distrustful of journalists. But we are building a new kind of newsroom that prioritizes community in a way that not only improves our reporting, it gets people engaged and invested in the news we produce. We are going to places of civic engagement — schools, community centers, youth organizations—and hosting town halls to directly solicit feedback and facilitate discussion about the news. We are working with researchers to find out how our communities receive and share information. And, we are recruiting people from within the communities to tell their own stories — some who aspire to be full-time journalists and some who simply want to document life in their neighborhoods.

“Community” journalism sometimes gets a bad rap, because it evokes an image of unmonitored message boards, hearsay, and pet pictures. But it doesn’t have to be that way. City Bureau is providing resources and guidance for our Documenters to attend public meetings and write reflections so there is a record of a community event that otherwise would go unnoted. For those who are interested in professional journalism, we offer paid internships and fellowships so people can test the waters. All of our stories are vigorously vetted and edited, and many end up in mainstream news outlets, to the benefit of all parties.

We hope this strategy will produce a cumulative effect, not only so that our reporting can impact public policy and improve the lives of our readers, but so that our readers feel a greater sense of agency in effecting change themselves. This, in turn, can help fuel public trust in the media in a way that ensures the community will have watchdogs for years to come.

Journalists are hemorrhaging the public trust, and we need to invest significant resources to stanch the wound now. We know it’s not easy: Our industry has been squeezed to the point where once-storied newsrooms are scraping by on 1/3 staff while trying to cover the largest mass shooting in American history. Small town papers barely have enough money to stay in business, much less file lawsuits to ensure police departments release documents that are and should be public. These are slim times. But the matter is urgent: the more public trust we lose, the fewer resources we have to rebuild it; before long, it will be too late.

We strongly believe the news media must remind its readers, every day, why its own existence is indispensable to the people in its community. That reminder doesn’t necessarily have to be a published story. It could be a workshop, or a visit to a community meeting, or just a casual conversation while we’re waiting for the same always-late bus. And we’ll keep doing it until every citizen on the South and West Sides knows who we are. So when someone says “blame the media,” people won’t think of someone sitting in an ivory tower, or a nameless behemoth—they’ll remember a friendly face or a useful story and reject that oversimplistic, dangerous statement. So that when someone wealthy and powerful tries to tear us down, we have a whole community to hold us up.

How We Built a Police Reform Tracker on a Platform Made for Rap Lyrics

City Bureau put a landmark 200-page Chicago report on the free platform formerly known as Rap Genius

Critics of the Chicago Police Department’s misconduct record and accountability mechanisms cheered when it appeared the mayor’s handpicked Police Accountability Task Force didn’t pull any punches. The Task Force issued a scathing 200-page report that accused the police force of widespread racism and impunity.

There was just one problem — it was the sixth such report submitted upon request to the city’s mayor and lawmakers, and few of those prior reforms were ever passed. In fact, many of the measures proposed in this most recent iteration were recommended in each previous report as well (in 1898, 1912, 1963, 1972, 1997, and now, 2016, to be exact).

So…How Are We Changing the Pattern?

This repetition of recommendations raises an obvious question: Why does this keep happening? Why isn’t the city acting on informed recommendations that could improve the daily lives of so many residents? And, while Mayor Emanuel has vowed to enact more than two dozen of the most recent reforms (reflected in this update to the Task Force Tracker), what role will residents play in implementation?

These questions are at the core of our Task Force Tracker — or #TaskForceTracker, to the social-media inclined. And they make up the foundation of what we hope to demonstrate: namely, that civic engagement is part transparency, part education, and part action. We wanted to create a tool that could break the dense report into easily searchable and understandable sections, adding information to give everyday citizens context about the issue while tracking any movement to actually implement the change.

With that in mind, City Bureau partnered with the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology, and the Invisible Institute, a journalistic production company on the South Side of Chicago, to research and annotate every single recommendation made in the mayoral-backed Task Force report — a total of around 200 individual recommendations on a range of reform topics ranging from Community and Youth Relations to Mental Health Responsiveness to Civilian Police Monitoring, and beyond.

On April 15, 2016, we formed a team of what we call “Community Documenters” — a group of five journalists, lawyers, students and the civically inclined — through funding from Smart Chicago. The deal: we’d pay each of our Documenters to work 25 hours across 5 days. By the end of that five-day period, we’d finish what we had dubbed the Task Force Tracker, “an annotated, updated and crowdsourced analysis of Chicago’s 2016 Police Accountability Task Force report.”

Who Are We, Again?

Let’s back up. We are reporters and educators with City Bureau, a journalism lab based based on the the South and West sides of Chicago. City Bureau aims to support civic media through training, exploration, and the production of top-notch journalism. We achieve our ends through our curriculum, regular town halls that engage marginalized communities and partnerships with a range of community groups, youth media organizations, civic tech foundations, and journalism outlets. In short, we bring reporters and media-makers of diverse backgrounds and skill levels together in a collaborative process of production and mutual education in order to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be heard. We began our first programs in October of 2015 and have since published over 30 stories in local and national media outlets, including the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Reporter, Chicago Magazine, DNAinfo Chicago, and the Guardian US. (You can read more about our workhere, here, and here.)

Our nascent Community Documenters program operates outside of our publication cycle and allows our group to take on projects and partners that respond to current needs and developments in our city. That’s the same responsive, flexible ideology that gave rise to the Tracker in the first place. A conversation with Smart Chicago led to funding for hires, and our collaboration with the Invisible Institute led to legal support and insight.

From there, our journalists brought their A-game.

How Does the Task Force Tracker Work?

For five days in April, a half-dozen Documenters combed through research, reports, databases, news sources, city contracts, local/statewide legislation and collective bargaining agreements. They also conducted interviews. Together, they amassed a collection of information that spanned connections between relevant (and often conflicting) groups such as the city’s police union, the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Police Board, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, along with national models that provide context and alternatives to both. To streamline our process, each of our Documenters worked on a single, shared (and publicly available) spreadsheet:

Our nine-page Excel sheet noted page numbers, precedents, relevant legislation, media accounts, collective bargaining agreements and similar reforms in other cities for each recommendation.

Most importantly, we used Genius (formerly known as Rap Genius) to achieve our desired effect. Our goals were succinct:

  1. collect and organize large amounts of information on a source document,
  2. allow everyday people to collaborate and add their own thoughts, experiences and insight and,
  3. democratize that process while giving it the greatest reach (ex: anyone can open and operate a free Genius account and each individual annotation can be shared via social media).

The folks at Genius were more than willing to help with the effort. They offered tech support via their News Genius team, inside tips on how to best annotate a large document, and helped spread the word (thanks Stephen, Leah, and Nat!)

There are currently more than 200 annotations posted on the Task Force Tracker using Genius, a free and public annotation tool formerly known as Rap Genius.

The Result?

  • In the first week after the Tracker’s launch, the tool saw more than 1000 unique views.
  • Since then, dozens of annotations and comments have been added.
  • Thanks to people who saw its potential early on, the Tracker quickly drew the attention of other civic practitioners, foundations, journalists, educators and certain unnamed city officials — some who were involved in the very creation of the Task Force Report and others who sit at the top levels of policymaking in Chicago.
  • In April, City Bureau Documenter and independent journalist Adeshina Emmanuel published an article with Chicago Magazine that used the Tracker to describe “how state law protects police contract provisions blasted by the Task Force.”
  • Last month, the Tracker got a shout out at the Knight Foundation’s #infoneeds conference, which was attended by the country’s leading funding organizations (including our primary funder, the McCormick Foundation)
  • Throughout April and May, the Tracker was noted in a range of media outlets including Fast Company, Chicagoist and Politico.
  • But our far-and-away favorite use has been during a month of weekly workshops with Chicago’s Westside Writing Project where our education director Andrea Hart used the Tracker to explore the police reform recommendations with nearly a dozen 7th and 8th graders from Cather Elementary School. For two Saturdays, the students used the Tracker to choose the most vital police reforms they’d like to see implemented in their communities.

Where Does It Go From Here?

We believe that improving the lives of everyday people and bridging the information gap requires an engaged and informed population across racial, social, class, gender and geographical divides.

It also requires a consistent push. The Tracker was created with the latter goal front-and-center, i.e. even after media attention on police accountability has waned, how do we, as journalists and Chicagoans, preserve acquired knowledge into the future, keep pressure on city officials and make it easy for people to access public tools?

Simply put, we’d like to see folks continue to add annotations, and comment on annotations that have already been added. We’d like to see educators use the Tracker in schools. We’d like to see more elementary and high school students engage with the information on a personal level. We’d like to see journalists continue to cite the details we’ve gathered. And we’d like to see lawyers use that same information to inform their cases.

These aren’t easy asks, surely, but we’ve already seen the process begun — there’s no reason the effort can’t be tracked and sustained.

Eighth graders using the #TaskForceTracker at Westside Writing Project in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

Any organization can apply the same tactic to public tools of their own design — no tech smarts required. What would it look like for a news outlet to file FOIA requests for emails from city officials related to a city’s most pressing issues — then use Genius to annotate those materials, drawing connections between actions and words where, seemingly, none existed? Or, at a basic level: can a class of 9th grade digital natives better understand the inner workings of their school by annotating governing documents — turning a set of obscure words and phrases into meaningful applications to their daily lives using a platform as simple and familiar as a re-purposed app like Rap Genius?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. So, consider the Tracker a demonstration — of the many ways that journalism, civics and tech can intersect and innovate to support shifting power dynamics. By producing on-the-ground reporting, investigative journalism and public tools, like the Task Force Tracker, we believe we can keep context alive.

We intend to take this tool and use it in our own public workshops and town halls — like a four-week series we recently hosted on Chicago’s West Side. But we hope that others will create their own Genius accounts to continue to annotate, inform our process and share feedback.

This piece was originally published on the Source.

When Traditional Reporting Taps Into Longstanding Community Networks

City Bureau is a growing network of people, institutions and community organizations who want to take back the narratives of their city. While historically disenfranchised groups in Chicago are often the subject of stories about injustice in the city, they are rarely given the opportunity to be the storytellers, due to systemic lack of access to traditional media careers. It is those incredibly resilient people, and the communities around them, who comprise City Bureau — folks who are unafraid to dream beyond current educational structures and the present media landscape.

As a collective, City Bureau acknowledges that there is untapped talent on the city’s South and West sides that could benefit from direct access to resources from neighboring journalism schools, nonprofit organizations and media outlets. We also acknowledge that the latter has a desire to better serve and collaborate with the former. By building these relationships, we hope to level the learning field in journalism.

So what does this look like? In our Fall 2015 cycle we recruited three tracks of community journalists ranging from recent high school graduates with little to no news experience to veteran local reporters. This cohort works together, teaching one another the nuances of these neighborhoods, reporting skills and more.

Location is a crucial element of this formula: Choosing North Lawndale and Woodlawn/Hyde Park to pilot our newsrooms, we are tapping into longstanding relationships in the community that strengthen and ensure the sustainability of our programs. Some of those community partners include Invisible Institute and Free Spirit Media. These groups are complemented by institutional partners from Illinois Humanities, The Chicago Reporter, Chicago Reader, Knight Lab at Northwestern University and University of Chicago.

Another critical component has been selecting the pilot issue that would bring all of the above together. We have chosen policing not only because it is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but also because we have been given access to Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project. Through this partnership, our journalists have a unique and timely angle on an important topic, and they are able to contextualize their personal experiences with police misconduct within the newly released data.

Beyond our intentionally inclusive newsroom, we have designed town halls to encourage more community dialogue. We realize these issues, like policing, are complex and living — they don’t stop when print hits the page or a video is uploaded. Our first gathering at the Experimental Station in Woodlawn brought all of our partners together as well as a range of community residents who shared their insights around both the issue and our media model. They joined in on our fearless dreaming.

These attendees and other community members are continuing to help make a new, more reflexive media ecosystem. These face-to-face moments honor and revive the historic neighbor-to-neighbor way of spreading community news. It is an opportunity to rebuild through placemaking what has been systematically destroyed by disinvestment and housing discrimination. City Bureau intends to invest time and human resources into creating work that is in collaboration with these communities at every level, instead of stereotyping or tokenizing due to hasty reporting and lack of context.

As City Bureau reporters begin to publish their work, we continue to build this pipeline of learning and relational exchanges. We continue to expand our opportunities for youth reporting, as well as partnerships. Our next town hall will be at The Firehouse Community Arts Center in North Lawndale on Nov. 23 from 6:30pm. Please join us to reflect more on the policing issue, reporters’ stories and to join this movement.