A project of Democracy Fund
The Local News Lab has been archived as of March 1, 2023. This page will remain online but will not be updated. More info.

July 16, 2019

How City Bureau is making journalism more democratic in Chicago

This case study on how City Bureau (Chicago) is making journalism more democratic is from the Wyncote Foundation’s 2019 Building Stronger Communities Through Media report. It is the second in a series on innovations in local journalism, public media and storytelling we’re republishing with their permission and the permission of the authors.

How can citizens get directly involved in reporting on their communities?

City Bureau's public newsroom is making journalism more democratic in Chicago
Sierra Council, former City Bureau Fellow, poses a question at
a May 2017 Public Newsroom on how Chicago’s South Side is
represented in the media. (Image courtesy of City Bureau)

City Bureau was formed in 2015 as a working civic journalism lab in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. City Bureau operates three main programs that “model a more democratic way of making media.” City Bureau’s vision is “a future in which all people are equipped with the tools and knowledge to effect change in their communities.”

“People are not powerless players; they can actively bring their assets to strengthen their communities and our shared work as journalists covering them.”

Darryl Holliday, City Bureau co-founder

Public Newsroom

The City Bureau Public Newsroom is a free, open weekly gathering, where the public is invited to exchange ideas and information with working journalists. Citizens have the opportunity to inform stories and share community resources, and journalists are able to interact directly with readers to identify and shape stories. As part of Public Newsroom programming, free workshops equip citizen-participants to navigate journalism processes like accessing government data, initiating Freedom of Information Act requests, and using audio and video, thereby helping to open up and share journalists’ tools.

City Bureau Documenters

The City Bureau Documenters program recruits, trains, and pays citizens to participate in the news gathering process. Documenters attend and report on public governance meetings and support research and data gathering for City Bureau reporting. To support documenters’ work, City Bureau engaged volunteers to create City Scrapers, an open source app that mines government websites and aggregates notices of public hearings and meetings into a central database for citizen access. City Bureau publishes original reporting on its own digital platforms and creates partnerships to bring stories and themed collections to local and national news outlets. To offer experience with its approaches, Civic Reporting Fellowships provide a stipend for early-career journalists to take part in City Bureau programs and reporting for 10 weeks, and then bring their experiences to their own newsrooms. 

A New Model

Co-founder Darryl Holliday says that many aspects of City Bureau’s work are replicable in other communities. However, helping journalists move from deficit-based reporting on communities to an asset-based approach to co-creating news with communities is slower going in terms of replication. “A lot of journalists could stand to learn from organizing tenets,” he says. “People are not powerless players; they can actively bring their assets to strengthen their communities and our shared work as journalists covering them.”

At a Glance

  • Organization Type: Independent nonprofit organization
  • Operating Budget: approximately $500,000 in 2018
  • Key Funders: Illinois Humanities Council, MacArthur Foundation, McCormick Foundation
  • Contact: Darryl Holliday, Co-Founder and Director, News Lab, darryl (at) citybureau.org

Related Links


About Wyncote Foundation

The Wyncote Foundation’s Public Media and Journalism Program is a place-based philanthropy in Philadelphia that works to further a thriving public media ecosystem that is vital to animating and sustaining democracy’s public sphere.

About the Author

Sarah Lutman writes about people and organizations making journalism more democratic

Sarah Lutman is founder of 8 Bridges Workshop, a St. Paul-based consulting and program development firm, and serves as senior advisor to Wyncote Foundation’s Public Media and Journalism Program.




About Local News Lab

Here on the Local News Lab, we regularly highlight collaborations between journalists, newsrooms, and communities that help build healthy news and information ecosystems. Click here to subscribe to the Local Fix, a weekly roundup of the best writing on journalism, paired with concrete advice, tools and resources for people who care about local news.