Rest in peace, DNAInfo Chicago.
Chicago without the late, great DNAinfo just doesn’t seem the same.
They enterprised unexpected neighborhood stories that nobody else in this town was covering. They reported on fun happenings like bar and restaurant openings. And let’s not forget, they were no slouches at investigative reporting either. Stories like this one, for example: Alderman Profited Off the 606- But That Doesn’t Mean He Wants You To …
As we info-junkies mourn the loss of that incessant newsfeed from our favorite neighborhoods, we talk with two former DNAinfo staffers who went on to create their own local news operation on the south side.
Bettina Chang and Darryl Holliday are co-founders of the City Bureau. It doesn’t have its own billionaire, so there aren’t as many paid staff and it doesn’t generate as much content as DNA did. But its non-profit mix of memberships, donations and philanthropy has generated a loyal and sustainable, if smaller, economic base.
“They brought me on to do breaking news,” Chang remembers, “to be a breaking news editor, so I worked 2 to 10 at night, and I was there as sort of the backstop on a lot of the stories that were left over from the day before getting them ready for the next morning. And because of that I was so lucky to be able to interact with a huge variety of the reporters. Most of the reporters there reported specifically to one editor, except for at night when it was just me in the office by myself hanging out with the cleaning lady.”
“I began at DNAinfo in 2012,” saysHolliday. “I was among the first batch of reporters. Actually before it even launched we were working on the murder timeline, which was the first big project designed to cover directly and intentionally every homicide in the City. So I began my career in journalism in that sort of City News Bureau where I was at the morgue every night, at 3 in the morning.”
When Chang and Holliday founded City Bureau, they insisted on a key difference. It was their devotion to training reporters and “documenters” from their own community.
“We could be bigger with more and better funding,” Holliday explains, “but we’re really focused on getting people, the everyday person to care about journalism and to make it so we don’t have to rely on foundations or the Joe Ricketts of the world and we can be accountable to you or to you, to all of us, and we build the media.”
“We run three year-around programs,” he adds. “One is the reporting fellowship where we bring what we call emerging journalists together with more experienced reporters. They work collaboratively, and that content gets produced across various media outlets locally and nationally. Our public newsroom, we open up our physical newsroom space in Woodlawn, once a week Thursdays from 6 to 8 and bring in community members, activists, journalists, academics, to talk about what is new and interesting in their work and their lives and share that, hands-on skill-sharing. Those conversations they are I think cathartic for some people. Some people are not used to having journalists come and say, “Really, what do you want to talk about? What do we need?…So that’s every single week, consistent. And the last program is our documenters program where we pay and train people, anyone to go out and document public meetings, so think the Chicago Police Board and City Council. We have a live feed sometimes. We have them fill out meeting templates so we know who is there, what were they talking about, what are the issues that were raised.”
Chang says she’s been heartened by the community repose in these first two years.
“You know it’s always a guided workshop,” she tells us. “We bring in somebody to lead it, and you can come based on your interest. We had one a while ago about using videogames to tell stories, and that tended to attract more people who are interested in games. Or, we had Tanika Johnson, a photographer from Englewood to talk about what does it mean to tell the story of your neighborhood. And so we got a lot of people who are interested in that issue. And so it’s very cross-generational. We had people who are 16 up to about 80 coming in.”
Now in its third year, and with the stunning demise of DNA, City Bureau’s founding principles and funding models will be put to an even more stringent test.
“If you can make the case right,” Holliday insists, “like what is the value proposition? I mean when you see DNA disappear, I think venues say, “Whoa, this can just go away? How do we make it so it can’t?”
This young organization is convinced that it can find and train young journalists and build a community-level news shop that will endure.
You can listen to this program on SoundCloud here.
And you can read full transcript of the discussion here:CN transcript Nov 9 2017 Chang and Holliday