The Problem:A lack of nuanced media coverage in South and West Side neighborhoods
The Fix:A journalism lab created to nurture a new generation of social-justice-minded reporters
The Backstory:Chicago needed a “J-school of the streets.” That was the conclusion reached by four local journalists: publisher Harry Backlund, editor Bettina Chang, consultant Andrea Hart, and reporter Darryl Holliday. When they looked around, they saw little diversity in newsrooms — and limited coverage in communities of color, focusing mostly on crime.
Rather than grouse about it, in 2015 the four created City Bureau, a self-described “civic journalism lab” in Woodlawn that teaches fledgling reporters the basics — everything from how to unravel key issues in a school board election to how to file a Freedom of Information Act request. “Some people who come here are journalists, but others are just active in their local community groups and feel like, ‘How else can I get involved?’ ” says Chang, who left Chicago magazine earlier this year to devote herself full time to the nonprofit.
Work by City Bureau reporters has appeared locally on WBEZ and in the Chicago Reader, among other places, and nationally in the Atlantic and the New York Times. But the goal isn’t to become a coast-to-coast journalism powerhouse; rather, City Bureau is at its best when it shines a light on matters affecting less privileged areas of Chicago. In 2016, for example, the group partnered with South Side Weekly on an issue devoted to lead in the city’s dust and water.
The strategy is earning City Bureau attention, honors, and funding. In June, the MacArthur Foundation awarded it a $1 million grant, which has gone toward hiring more staffers.
Where you come in:City Bureau offers three levels of donor membership, ranging from $8 to $50 per month, at citybureau.org.