Search locations, dates, times and official records for your local government’s public meetings—get trained & paid to attend these meetings and publish the results in collaboration with local journalists.

Our Mission

The vast majority of governmental meetings receive no media coverage and produce minimal records. At the same time, many news consumers feel alienated from media, but are eager to play a role in fixing it.

The Documenters Program was created by Smart Chicago in 2014 and reframed for City Bureau's civic journalism lab in 2016 to improve oversight of local government by tapping into the public desire to participate in civic reform. We know there is public interest from experience: to date, over 550 people have enrolled in the Documenters program.

Together, we aim to reinvigorate notions of citizenship by using journalism to empower storytellers; employing civic tech to illuminate civic processes; distributing democratized trainings to provide structure around journalistic production; and instituting an hourly wage to value each citizen’s time and efforts. The Documenters Program provides practical, actionable solutions for civic disengagement, news literacy deficits and public distrust of news media and civic processes.


Our Values

  • Collaboration: Documenters work together for the public good, in the public interest.

  • intergenerational learning: Documenters of all ages receive training on a range of disaggregated journalistic skills to inform the public by building a new public record.

  • Civic Engagement: Documenters identify, address and share issues of local concern.

  • Journalistic self-expression: Documenters create space for the expression of experiences, action and ideas through storytelling, media and journalism.


What Can I Learn By Being a Documenter...

A lot about the place where you live! What is your City Council talking about this week? What are Local School Councils, and what community power do they have? What neighborhood is the police department doing outreach in? Who governs your water?

Our Documenters program is a critical component in City Bureau’s mission to bridge the ideals of civic journalism with the economic and political realities in which it exists. In short, Documenters democratize news & information at the local level.

Documenters participate in a range of City Bureau projects, including, but not limited to:

  • Attending and documenting public governance meetings and civic events

  • Engaging in projects designed to increase the role of reporting and storytelling in public discourse

  • Using data, official reports and community dialogue to provide context to some of the city’s most pressing issues

  • Assisting with City Bureau's public events

  • Writing reflections to be featured on City Bureau’s blog

City Bureau's Documenters programs pays community members an hourly wage to inform and engage their communities. Documenter assignments take many forms from documenting public governance meetings in to participation in journalistic project based in our South Side newsroom. There are many ways Documenters put their skills, knowledge and experience to work for the public good.


From the Documenters Blog

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In September 2019 we were awarded an international honor, the first-ever Gather Award for Engaged Journalism at this year’s Online Journalism Award ceremony. Our award-winning Documenters program is shaping a new kind of accountability for local government, from Chicago to São Paulo.


Don’t Just Engage, Equip

Equipping is about agency. It’s about providing access and opportunities for public participation and production. Equipping is teaching and interconnected learning. It’s about exchanging skills and resource. It’s a redistribution of power between institutions and individuals.

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The Profound History of Public Hearings and Why We’re Devoted to Documenting Them

A look back at the origins of civic participation in the U.S. and how City Bureau’s Documenters program is testing a new mode for civic engagement


Community-Building With a Purpose: Our First Documenters Summit

City Bureau‘s March 10 event allowed #ChiDocumenters to collaborate with each other and give input on our groundbreaking program. Here’s how we did it.


How Did City Bureau’s Documenters Program Get Started?

One weird trick to get people to document and record public events for the greater good: Pay them! Here, we honor the origins of our fastest-growing program and look at the way forward.

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Investing in Our Documenters = Investing in Our Community

On June 22, City Bureau was awarded a $50,000 prototype grant from Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation — here’s what we plan to do next.

Questions, comments or concerns?

Email us at to speak with staff at city bureau on questions and requests to the Documenters Program in Chicago and Detroit.