A look back at what we’ve learned, what’s next and how you can contribute to our weekly workshop series

By Andrea Faye Hart

Photo highlights from our 99 Public Newsrooms since Fall 2016. (Collage Credit: Ellie Mejía)

Photo highlights from our 99 Public Newsrooms since Fall 2016. (Collage Credit: Ellie Mejía)

On March 21 the City Bureau community will be celebrating its 100th Public Newsroom. For nearly every Thursday in the past few years we’ve discussed, debated and deconstructed some of the most pressing issues in our city. We’ve had more than 200 hosts, who’ve helped us facilitate 200+ hours of conversations, with thousands of attendees wanting to build a community newsroom that looks like and respects them.

We launched the crowdfunding campaign to create our Public Newsroom in August 2016 because we believed (and still do) that “journalism works better when the people affected by media coverage play a role in creating it.” As a result, our weekly workshop series has become a generative, brave space rooted in popular education principles — where everyone, especially local reporters, can unlearn the harmful historic practices of traditional news- and information-gathering. That’s translated into reporters (including our own reporting fellows) doing more listening than talking. In addition to diagnosing what hasn’t worked, this ever-growing community has been collectively designing ways to humanize local news. It’s a beautiful, evolving dynamic articulated by one of our youngest Documenters (I believe she’s 16 now) — “it’s a place where the power is in the question holder, not in the presenter.”

We’ve come a long way since our first Public Newsroom with Eve Ewing on accountable, community reporting. And we’re not the only media outlet who’s benefited from these conversations — we’ve seen many folks in the Chicago media landscape (and beyond) take steps in reimagining local news. To celebrate our 100th workshop, I wanted to pull three of the big commitments we made during our launch campaign three years ago, highlight ways we’ve approached these goals and where we still have room to grow.

We wanted the Public Newsroom to be a space where “we’re opening opportunities for everyone to play a direct role in local journalism.”

  • This has translated into workshops where community residents can help shift reporting frameworks to make them more equitable. Some highlights have included reimagining crime reporting with local journalists and organizers during our 69th workshop in July 2018 as well as unpacking how to cover reproductive rights and abortion during our 38th Public Newsroom in October 2017 with Rewire.News’ Senior Producer Jenn Stanley. Eventually we hope to better document and compile these kinds of workshops to form an alternative, community-centered style guide for local news and information practitioners.

  • This has also meant skills-sharing workshops where attendees take a direct role in reporting, like our 21st and 29th workshops featuring The CivicLab founder Tom Tresser. In July 2017 Tresser came in to unpack data from the city’s notorious Tax Increment Financing program , then returned with a City Bureau Documenters training in September 2017 to show everyday residents how to analyze the city’s annual TIF report. You can see the results here. This was one of the first times we revisited a conversation to share findings, which has become a valuable new practice that we are continuing today.

We wanted the Public Newsroom to “build communication and trust between journalists and readers”

Chicago artist Tonika Johnson presents her work documenting Englewood—where she grew up and still calls home. (Photo Credit: Karen Kring)

Chicago artist Tonika Johnson presents her work documenting Englewood—where she grew up and still calls home. (Photo Credit: Karen Kring)

  • During our 17th Public Newsroom we hosted local artist Tonika Johnsonto talk about “who tells the story of Englewood,” her hometown neighborhood. We loved Johnson’s perspective on community storytelling so much that she became our first photojournalism fellow, where she was able to more fully develop her “Folded Map” project. We are grateful that Johnson trusted us to help nurture her project in the early stages and for her continued influence within our fellowship program.

And our “long-term vision is a local media ecosystem that is open to all, capable of holding official power accountable, and can strengthen the bonds within communities.”

  • To kick off 2019 we hosted a series of election-related Public Newsroom, including our 96th workshop hosted in Azucar, an ice cream shop in Little Village with the community group El Foro Del Pueblo. This event, hosted mostly in Spanish, was an opportunity for 22nd Ward residents to understand the power of alderpeople and how to hold them accountable outside of the voting booth. This workshop was also significant because over the last few years we’ve hosted more Public Newsrooms outside of our beloved homebase in Build Coffee at the request of our community.

And some things we didn’t quite anticipate when we kicked off this program but I wanted to note — the Public Newsroom has been a space to honor our history and cultural memory. We’ve been honored to feature folks like civic rights activist Timuel Black (who also celebrated a 100th birthday this year) and Young Lords founder Jose Cha-Cha Jimenez as part of our first-ever curator series.

Additionally, the Public Newsroom is spreading beyond City Bureau. We’ve found mission-aligned partners locally like DePaul’s 14 East Magazine, around the country with Mississippi Today and Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, as well as globally with Énois in São Paulo, who’ve been remixing the Public Newsroom to serve their communities. (Stay tuned for a PN toolkit being released later this year!)

So what’s up for our next 100 Public Newsrooms? That’s where you come in! We’ve always loved our community’s input — tell us what topics or hosts you’d like to see. What resources would you like us to share from these workshops? And how? If you have suggestions please shoot me an email at andrea@citybureau.org. And most importantly, we hope you join us March 21 at 6 p.m. for a celebratory dance party featuring local TV show Chic-A-Go-Go and musical act Joseph Chilliams.


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