What $1 Million Can Do for Community Journalism in Chicago

Today’s grant from the MacArthur Foundation is a vote of confidence in our vision of equitable, inclusive local media—a vision shared by our growing community of supporters, reporters and partners, without whom none of this would be possible.

City Bureau Reporting fellows, from Spring 2016 to Spring 2018.

One year ago we asked what $100,000 could do for community journalism in Chicago.

Now we’re asking you to join us in raising the bar.

Today’s announcement of a million-dollar, three-year commitment from the MacArthur Foundation to City Bureau represents a major commitment to our vision for the future of media in Chicago. We’re honored to receive this vote of confidence, but we’re giving it a momentary backseat to remember how we got here and spotlight the people who made it possible — because it’s incredible what a difference a year can make when the network you invest in invests in you.

In less than three years, City Bureau has gone from an audacious idea to a replicable model for more equitable, inclusive and representational community news coverage. Our civic journalism lab wasn’t launched with a scathing report or investigative takedown; it started with a community forum in Woodlawn, where we’ve made our home on Chicago’s South Side, settled between an independent cafe and a community bike shop. We asked what Chicagoans wanted in local media — and you told us.

Our mission is to bring journalists and communities together in a collaborative spirit to produce equitable media coverage and encourage civic participation. We’re doing that through three year-round programs — our Civic Journalism Reporting Fellowship, the Documenters Program and our free, weekly Public Newsroom forum — which work together to broaden paths of entry into the journalism industry, increase transparency and accessibility at local public governance meetings and bring people into solutions-based dialogue.

At every level, our work is made possible through a network of relationships: We are sustained by contributions from a wide and diverse public that believes in community journalism, and we pay out to a wide public to participate in the production of community journalism: This virtuous circle represents the kind of organization we want to be.

Since 2015, we’ve paid more than 100 Chicagoans to participate in the creation of local media. In 2017 alone, that amount totaled more than $100,000. To date, more than 50 media, youth and community organizations have joined our work as publication partners, mentees and local ambassadors, expanding our network to thousands of citizens who want to see themselves reflected in their local media.

To date, more than 100 people have joined our Press Club, telling us — with their voices and dollars — that we’re accountable to the public, with a mandate to put that investment to use for Chicago.

To date, dedicated civic leaders from the Voqal Fund; the McCormick Foundation; the Democracy Fund; the Knight Foundation; the Conant Family Foundation; the Field Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Illinois Humanities; and, most recently, the Reva and David Logan Foundation have visited our newsroom, followed our journey and decided to endorse our vision for community media.

Today’s million-dollar commitment from the MacArthur Foundation gives a huge boost to the programs that our partners and members have helped build over the past three years. It supplements contributions from our Press Club members who want to see City Bureau thrive. It ensures that this organization, which was founded on many hours of volunteer labor, will be able to hire local staff with competitive wages and benefits; it will enable us to pay and train more local reporters through our fellowship and more community members through our Documenters Program; and it will help us investigate local stories that matter while investing in diverse local voices. All in Chicago.

On behalf of our sustaining members, our local and national colleagues and our partner institutions, we invite you to become a Press Club member; to serve your community through the Documenters Program; to attend our free, weekly workshops; and to join the renaissance in local journalism.

We’ll see you at the Public Newsroom,

Andrea Hart, Harry Backlund, Darryl Holliday, Bettina Chang