How We Hire Our Reporters

Notes on process, inclusion and Chicago’s media ecosystem

For starters, we’d like to lay out our motivation for this post in three parts:

  1. You’ve asked us (thanks for your interest!)
    2) Rather than being a program or initiative; diversity, inclusion and transparency are at the heart of City Bureau’s mission
    3) We’re inspired by the amazing work of our partners and friends (please see “How We Hire Our Youth? An Expose” from the Mikva Challenge Blog and Hearken’s “More Than Fluff: Dismantling Journalism’s Hard News Bias” for some examples from our reading list.)

As we ramp up toward our fifth cycle…

We wanted to take some time and lay out our process when it comes to hiring our reporters as, in many ways, the direction of each “cycle” is defined by the people in our programs and the experiences they bring to the table. And if there’s one thing that’s become apparent since our launch in October 2015, it’s that hiring a diverse and, more importantly, inclusive set of journalists eager to do news differently doesn’t come without concerted effort (see our latest interview with Poynter for more on this point).

While we realize we won’t immediately reverse decades of marginalization and unequal hiring practices that have left most major newsrooms in the U.S. without a single reporter of color, we plan to make a dent in that sobering reality — not by counting heads, but by ensuring our newsroom feels, and is, open and inclusive for reporters of all ages, races and gender identities.

Below is a demographic breakdown of all City Bureau reporters since we began our programs last fall:

Here are race, age and gender identity demographics of City Bureau reporters from fall 2015 to summer 2016

The majority of City Bureau programming centers on our reporting fellowship program, where journalists work together on stories and investigations. This program involves three groups that make up the community-to-mainstream media pipeline we hope to bolster on Chicago’s South and West sides:

  • Our Team Leaders, i.e. our most experienced journalists
  • Our Reporters, i.e. those with some writing/reporting training but minimal professional experience
  • Young media-makers and policy analysts from our youth media partner organizations (this summer: high school-aged youths from Free Spirit Media, IMPACT Family Center and Mikva Challenge). These participants are not included in our demographics above because we do not directly hire them — more info on this below.

We’ve designed an intensive interviewing and application process for our Team Leaders and Reporters. Over the course of the last year it’s been refined to focus on outreach, framing and selection, with the recent addition of a writing test for Reporters and a rolling application process for Team Leaders to ensure our doors are open to great story pitches all year-round.

We look for candidates who are interested in shifting media narratives — by that we mean telling a diverse range of stories with and among communities that have been historically edged out of vital public discourse. We look for candidates with a considerable connection to the South and West sides of Chicago regardless of race/ethnicity. We look for candidates of color. We look for non-traditional journalists, i.e. those who may not have come through j-school. And we look for candidates who are explicitly interested in sharing their skills freely and openly with the public.

Since our October 2015 launch, applications to our program have risen steadily. That’s in large part due to our continual community outreach, through our town halls and regular “Reporting in the Open” events. By partnering with local groups, we’re constantly expanding our network and giving due credit to the hard-working organizations that have laid the foundation for civic media in Chicago. We promote our program application through this burgeoning City Bureau network, folks on our newsletter, former City Bureau reporters, Twitter and Facebook, among others. Our last cycle we received 45 applications for 9 openings — we expect more for the Spring cycle.

Beyond the baseline criteria listed above, we leave room for surprise and the unexpected application that makes us rethink our own approach. In our first cycle, former City Bureau reporter Jean Cochrane filed their application in the form of a truly insightful comic that you can read here.

Each week, our reporting teams mentor and work side-by-side with the young media-makers of our youth media partner organizations. As our Community Engagement Director, Andrea Hart puts it, our youth media partners may not be experienced in professional journalism but they’re often the most experienced in the themes and topics that we cover. We place a high value on mutual learning between our journalists and the youth we work with.

Like our Documenters program, City Bureau’s regular programming is intended to support civic engagement, in politics and everyday life. We want our newsroom to represent the wide variety of voices in Chicago — and to facilitate dialogue and shared experiences between the mainstream and the city’s most marginalized communities. It’s the same theory we bring to our reporting: supporting coverage and voices that otherwise might not get invited to the table.

Our reporters span a range of experiences, motivations and productions, from months-long investigations into police in schools to community-centered pieces from in our most under-reported neighborhoods to analysis of the policies that make up our way of life and multimedia storytelling on the everyday people who make up our city. Our reporters are committed to civic journalism from traditional text reporting to public events that showcase the latest skills, styles and ideologies that make up our local media landscape.

So, what’s next?

Applications for our Spring 2017 reporting cycle are open until March 1, and our next cycle starts March 29, in the meantime we’re shaping our paid Documenters program and our Public Newsroom, which offers professional development, workshops, event coverage and other opportunities during and between cycles in partnership with out friends at the South Side Weekly (see our #TaskForceTracker and #IPRAtracker projects for examples of how we plan to employ our Documenters — and see the full application here if you already know you’re interested).

For those not accepted to the program on any given cycle, we have some sage advice: please apply again! We’ve been fortunate to have more applicants than we could possibly accept for each cycle —and we love it when our repeat reporters stay on board to train newcomers to our program. We encourage all applicants to re-apply as many times as they’d like.

Are you interested in working with City Bureau? Or just interested in talking shop? We’re here to help. Hit us up at info@citybureau.org, fill out our Documenters application or find us online, on Facebook, on Twitter and, as always, here on Medium.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.