When Traditional Reporting Taps Into Longstanding Community Networks

City Bureau is a growing network of people, institutions and community organizations who want to take back the narratives of their city. While historically disenfranchised groups in Chicago are often the subject of stories about injustice in the city, they are rarely given the opportunity to be the storytellers, due to systemic lack of access to traditional media careers. It is those incredibly resilient people, and the communities around them, who comprise City Bureau — folks who are unafraid to dream beyond current educational structures and the present media landscape.

As a collective, City Bureau acknowledges that there is untapped talent on the city’s South and West sides that could benefit from direct access to resources from neighboring journalism schools, nonprofit organizations and media outlets. We also acknowledge that the latter has a desire to better serve and collaborate with the former. By building these relationships, we hope to level the learning field in journalism.

So what does this look like? In our Fall 2015 cycle we recruited three tracks of community journalists ranging from recent high school graduates with little to no news experience to veteran local reporters. This cohort works together, teaching one another the nuances of these neighborhoods, reporting skills and more.

Location is a crucial element of this formula: Choosing North Lawndale and Woodlawn/Hyde Park to pilot our newsrooms, we are tapping into longstanding relationships in the community that strengthen and ensure the sustainability of our programs. Some of those community partners include Invisible Institute and Free Spirit Media. These groups are complemented by institutional partners from Illinois Humanities, The Chicago Reporter, Chicago Reader, Knight Lab at Northwestern University and University of Chicago.

Another critical component has been selecting the pilot issue that would bring all of the above together. We have chosen policing not only because it is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but also because we have been given access to Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project. Through this partnership, our journalists have a unique and timely angle on an important topic, and they are able to contextualize their personal experiences with police misconduct within the newly released data.

Beyond our intentionally inclusive newsroom, we have designed town halls to encourage more community dialogue. We realize these issues, like policing, are complex and living — they don’t stop when print hits the page or a video is uploaded. Our first gathering at the Experimental Station in Woodlawn brought all of our partners together as well as a range of community residents who shared their insights around both the issue and our media model. They joined in on our fearless dreaming.

These attendees and other community members are continuing to help make a new, more reflexive media ecosystem. These face-to-face moments honor and revive the historic neighbor-to-neighbor way of spreading community news. It is an opportunity to rebuild through placemaking what has been systematically destroyed by disinvestment and housing discrimination. City Bureau intends to invest time and human resources into creating work that is in collaboration with these communities at every level, instead of stereotyping or tokenizing due to hasty reporting and lack of context.

As City Bureau reporters begin to publish their work, we continue to build this pipeline of learning and relational exchanges. We continue to expand our opportunities for youth reporting, as well as partnerships. Our next town hall will be at The Firehouse Community Arts Center in North Lawndale on Nov. 23 from 6:30pm. Please join us to reflect more on the policing issue, reporters’ stories and to join this movement.

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