City Bureau is honored to be the recipient of 2019’s Rising Star Award from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Cofounders Andrea Hart, Harry Backlund, Darryl Holliday and Bettina Chang received the award May 7, 2019, at the Ziegfield Ballroom in New York, alongside storied names in journalism like Andrea Mitchell, April Ryan, John Carreyrou and David G. Bradley.
Below, see City Bureau cofounder and operations director Harry Backlund’s remarks for that evening.
I have two messages to share on behalf of our team up here and back in Chicago.
The first is a sincere thank you, not just for the recognition of this award, but for the Reporters Committee’s contribution to our work. Over the past year the Reporters Committee provided legal support for our Documenters program, helping us develop training materials and review processes to make the work that Documenters produce as rigorous and accessible as possible. That partnership has been immensely helpful. It’s also been inspiring. As a direct result of the Committee’s support of City Bureau, hundreds of Chicagoans have a working knowledge of the Illinois Open Meetings Act and the Fair Report Privilege. And they are using it. To those of you here tonight who contribute to RCFP—know that this is another kind of impact your support makes possible.
I also want to share something we’ve learned about what press freedom means to us. Journalism awards often follow a moment of crisis—a landmark court case; or a revelatory investigation. This is a different kind of award recognizing a different kind of work. When you get down to it, our jobs at City Bureau involve hanging out at Chicago Public Library branches and teaching people to take notes at municipal government meetings; organizing public workshops for a few dozen people in the coffee shop across from our office; and hosting evening classes to train a few of our neighbors at a time in the basics of community reporting. These small moments do not lead to a big scoop. But taken together, they offer a new approach to journalism, a rough draft of a new contract between the press and the public.
Here goes: we who call ourselves journalists have immense power to influence public conversation. We started City Bureau because we believe that we have a responsibility to redistribute that power, and that our role is not to inform the public but to equip people to access the information they need to strengthen their communities. We believe that journalism is not fundamentally a profession or an industry; it’s an act of citizenship and community-building. We believe that journalism as a civic practice does not belong to the professionals; it belongs to everyone.
This is in some ways a radical idea, but it isn’t a new one. It’s an extension of the first amendment. A new way to peaceably assemble and petition for the redress of grievance. We are not holding workshops at the Chicago Public Library to save democracy; we are doing it because that is democracy. For us, this work is not the fourth estate. It is the first estate.
That is how we see this award: as a vote of confidence in a truly public press. It means a lot. Thank you very much.