by Mari Cohen
It’s a scary time for journalism. We need good reporting in the public interest more than ever. And yet across the country, local news organizations are closing or cutting back, and much of the industry is controlled by a few very wealthy people with little interest in the product. Part of the work of today’s journalists — especially local journalists — is to consider how we build from here and make good journalism viable for our communities.
At the South Side Weekly, we believe that making journalism education more accessible is crucial for the future of journalism. So we’re launching a brand new workshop series. We’ll host two-hour workshops roughly every other Saturday, with the goal of hosting them weekly come spring. We’ll cover the basic meat-and-potatoes — reporting, writing for print and radio, fact-checking — as well as more specific topics like collecting oral histories and reporting on the arts. Some workshops will be led by our own staff, and others will be led by guest presenters from around the city. Every workshop will be free and open to the public, without any experience required for attendance.
This workshop series is a natural next step for our organization. The South Side Weekly was founded in 2013 with the exclusionary history of the journalism industry in mind. Even when the journalism business was booming, newsrooms were rarely representative of the communities they covered. In Chicago, coverage of the South and West Sides focused mainly on crime, sometimes resulting in racist and dehumanizing portraits of the people who live here. By contrast, the Weekly aims for robust, local coverage of the South Side: arts, culture, politics, and more. We pursue contributions from across the city from people with varying levels of journalism experience.
From the beginning, the Weekly was designed as a teaching paper, where even people with no journalism experience are welcome to become contributors. Our approach reframes the relationship between journalists and audience as a collaborative process of public education. Our robust, rigorous editing process helps our writers learn as they go. We’ve also built resources, like this comprehensive writer’s guide, to help contributors with varying levels of experience get acclimated to journalistic writing.
Workshops have always been a part of what we do at the Weekly. We’ve invited journalists from around Chicago to speak to our staff; we hold trainings and onboardings for our contributors interested in editing, fact-checking, data journalism, and radio; and we co-sponsored the launch of City Bureau’s Public Newsroom. With this workshop series, we are formalizing this programming and bringing it to the public. Part of making journalism more diverse — and better — is offering learning opportunities outside the expensive halls of J-school.
We launched this series with the help of donations from our readers, and we’re excited to announce that we’ve received additional support through the PEN America Press Freedom Incentive Fund, which backs new initiatives to invigorate local communities with ideas, information, questions, and discourse around press freedom defense. We’re partnering with PEN America, an organization working to support free expression in the United States and worldwide, to release a special series of eight workshops centered around supporting press freedom. These workshops will help people learn about the Freedom of Information Act, reporting on public meetings, and much more. By increasing access to journalism skills, we can build a more democratic news ecosystem that is more representative of our communities.
Here’s what you can do to support this project:
- You can attend! Whether you’re an emerging journalist looking to learn, an experienced reporter looking to practice and share your skills, or brand new and just curious about how journalism works, you can help us shape this public resource. View our workshops and register here.
- You can contribute. We have a lean budget for these workshops that covers materials and supplies and stipends for the presenters and organizers. If you’re in a position to support local media financially, this is a great way to have a direct impact.
- You can share feedback. Is there something you’d like to learn that isn’t included? Do you know someone who could host a workshop? Let us know!