The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
And when that small group consists of the four thoughtful, committed people behind City Bureau, a civic journalism lab in Woodlawn, than there is no doubt:
Change is coming.
Founded in 2015 by Darryl Holliday, Andrea Hart, Bettina Chang and Harry Backlund, City Bureau is leading by doing. And apparently, it is teaching traditional media what it means to respect and engage an audience.
Perhaps, you’ve already heard of them or seen their stories in The Reader, The Guardian, the Atlantic, WBEZ or the South Side Weekly, it’s sister publication. But if you’ve not, you should be paying attention.
City Bureau deep dives into its reporting, finding innovative ways to tell the stories of Chicago’s most underserved populations — people of color on the South Side and West Side.
The group also teaches within its community. Each week, people are invited to learn and to understand journalism at regular Public Newsroom sessions.
And there is its fellowship program — open to community members, not just journalism school graduates–that helps people go into still greater depth in learning journalism.
Nor does it stop there. City Bureau employs people in its community.
The Documenters program trains people interested in helping keep public officials accountable — and sends these documenters to some of the many uncovered government meetings held throughout the city, where they report and tweet and take photographs and videos.
(Full disclosure here, we have helped edit City Bureau’s guidebook for that program and hosted a newsroom, as well. In fact, we are happy to help in any way possible because we, at Public Narrative, believe in City Bureau’s work.)
And recently, hoping to understand the people of Chicago, themselves, as well as how they consume and support news, City Bureau joined with the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin to do a survey of Chicagoans.
As Darryl Holliday framed it in a blog about the study:
“At City Bureau, we believe that traditional media has neglected certain parts of the city, which is why we focus on creating equitable, representative coverage of the South and West Sides, where we often find that people feel very differently about local news media depending on how well-represented they feel they are in newspapers and on TV.”
The survey of 900 found that the majority of people who live on the South Side and West Side believe the media underrepresent and often misrepresent their neighborhoods.
North Siders and those who are predominately white think, not surprisingly, that things are generally OK with the Chicago media’s portrayal of the city.
But here is where a happy surprise comes in. The same people who feel left out of the stories and poorly represented are also willing to get involved and help the media. Isn’t that amazing?
I wish you had heard more about this survey from the media — or had joined many of us who went to hear about it during a public newsroom at City Bureau. It was a great night of discussion about the Chicago news ecosystem.
Still, it’s clear that some were listening — including the consortium, led by Edwin Eisendrath, that recently bought the Chicago Sun-Times.
It was recently announced that the Bright One will receive a Report for America grant. This program, which places journalists across the country via grants, will help the Sun-Times build its newsroom. And when you read the release about what the Sun-Times plans to do with its new staffer, you know the thinking came directly from City Bureau’s work:
“The Report for America corps member will focus on covering neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides, where crime, housing, education and environmental challenges persist. The reporter will focus not only on writing about problems in those areas, but also on efforts to lift up those communities, including business development, infrastructure improvements and social-service interventions. He or she will cover government and community events; be a watchdog for taxpayer dollars, and tell the stories of everyday people.”
In fact, the survey is cited later in the news release. And so as a veteran observer of this city’s news ecosystem: I am thrilled. This means you can teach old watchdogs new tricks.
So, congratulations to both City Bureau and to the Chicago Sun-Times.
These days, it is clear: The only way the news media can survive, and maybe even thrive, is by being relevant.
That means listening and being willing to cooperate — not just competing — with one another.
And today, let’s give a hat tip to one of the amazing groups leading the way.