Founded in 1989 as the Community Media Workshop, Public Narrative was born out of the belief that a free and informed press, as well as an educated public, are the cornerstones of democracy.
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.
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 120 journalists have been recognized for their work.
In 1995, we began producing a media contacts guide, “Getting on the Air and Into Print,” which provided contact information for Chicago-area journalists and media outlets. Due to organizational transitions, guide production and distribution halted in the 2000s, but the in-demand Chicago Media Guide was officially relaunched in 2023, once again serving the communities, leaders, nonprofits and journalists with thousands of contacts in the local, and even national media landscape.
The Ethnic & Community Media Project was launched in 2009. The project supports nearly 200 ethnic and community media outlets whose stories are part of the fabric of Chicago’s many neighborhoods.
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 works with youth for the first time ever and facilitated the Chicago Community, Media & Research Partnership with Northwestern.