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Local Media

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.

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?