It's
All About
The
Story

Our mission

Our mission is driven from a desire to shore up our country’s democratic underpinnings. To fulfill it, we teach two distinct groups — journalists and nonprofits — how to tell better stories. We know without people seeing their concerns and realities reflected in journalism, the full stories will never be told, those that are will not be relevant to people and there can never be meaningful change. And we want change. We particularly intend to change the public narrative to ensure we are telling the full story about racism, sexism and xenophobia — things that are historically and deeply woven into the fabric of society. Our goal is to change the public narrative to ensure stories involving these issues are complete and include the voices of people, not just power.

With nonprofits:

We teach community groups and leaders we work on messaging and storytelling across platforms. By doing so, we reconnect people to their mission, help refocus their staff and reprioritize their work. Many of the people we work with are underrepresented voices, people of color and women — audiences that must see themselves in media outlets to continue to be media consumers.

With journalists:

We focus on issues by teaching best practices in journalism and providing resources that can help with the difficult task of issue reporting. We remind journalists that a complete story does not just outline the problem, but includes those working on solutions. We also help journalists find the people in the community dealing with those issues.

With both groups:

We bring neighborhood thought leaders and key organizations to journalists and vice versa, via our quarterly ‘speed-dating’ programs that focus on issue reporting.


What we believe:

  • We believe a free and informed press, as well as an educated public are the cornerstones of democracy.
  • We know also that an uninformed civil society not only suffers from being left out but falls victim to myths and stereotypes.
  • And we know that a media that does not reflect its audience and understand those concerns becomes irrelevant
  • Public Narrative’s goal has always been to amplify nonprofit and neighborhood voices, so they are not only heard but are part of the ongoing conversation on issues that affect them.

History

Founded in 1989 as the Community Media Workshop, Public Narrative was born out a the belief that a free and informed press, as well as an educated public, are the cornerstones of democracy.

Hank DeZutter, Studs Terkel, and Thom Clark

The founders Hank DeZutter, a journalist and educator, and Thom Clark, a photographer and neighborhood nonprofit newsletter writer, saw that too many times, the voices of power were the ones quoted in news stories, rendering invisible the people working for change in the neighborhoods.

With a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the two men started training people who worked in nonprofits about the media. 

The next 25 years

In 1994, the Studs Terkel Community Media Award was born. This award is given each spring to journalists whose stories reflected the values of Terkel’s narrative storytelling. Since 1994, more than 70 journalists have been recognized for their work.

In 1995, we began producing a media guide, “Getting on the Air and Into Print,” which today provides contact information for over 7,000 Chicago-area journalists and media outlets.  

The Ethnic & Community Media Project was launched in 2009. The project supports the nearly 200 ethnic and community media outlets whose stories are part of the fabric of Chicago’s many neighborhoods.

Building a better Public Narrative

DeZutter retired in 2004 and 10 years later, Thom Clark stepped down as president, handing the reins to Susy Schultz. That same year, Firebelly Inc. began a process to examine the organization’s impact on the city. They found that while the Workshop enjoyed great respect and many knew of the work, not many knew the name. Therefore, in 2015, the organization was renamed Public Narrative, to better reflect the work of teaching storytelling to nonprofits and journalists. 

In 2019, Jhmira Alexander became the president and Executive Director of Public Narrative. Under her leadership, the organization has begun working with youth for the first time ever, and has started the Chicago Community, Media & Research Partnership with Northwestern.

Our Team

Marcus Betts

  • Board Chair

Catherine Rabenstine

  • Board Treasurer

Kathleen O’Malley

  • Board Director

anita

Anita Banerji

  • Board Director

Jhmira Alexander

  • President and Executive Director

Erica Bell

  • Operations Manager
Mareva Lindo

Mareva Lindo

  • Project Manager, Blog Editor

Teena Francois-Blue

  • Grant Writer

Khallilah Watkins

  • Online Community Manager