Documenters.org was created in 2018 by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab in Chicago, to improve oversight of local government by tapping into the public’s desire to participate in civic life.

As the primary portal of the Documenters Program, Documenters.org collects and displays public information in one centralized location, including dates, times, locations and documentation from public governance meetings in Illinois and Michigan.

To date, over 550 people have enrolled in the Documenters program. Together, we aim to reinvigorate notions of citizenship by using journalism to empower storytellers; employing civic tech to illuminate civic processes; and paying an hourly wage to value each citizen’s time and efforts.

City Bureau and its Documenters Program partners envision a future in which all people are equipped with the tools and knowledge to effect change in their communities.

Who manages the Documenters Program?

The Documenters Program currently operates in Chicago and Detroit. In Chicago, the program is led by City Bureau. In Detroit, the program is operated by a collective consisting of City Bureau, WDET, CitizenDetroit and Outlier Media.

What is City Bureau?

Founded in 2015, City Bureau is a 501(c)3 nonprofit newsroom based on the South Side of Chicago. We bring journalists and communities together in a collaborative spirit to produce media that is impactful, equitable and responsive to the public.

Who are the Documenters?

Documenters are highly engaged citizens who are recruited, trained and paid by the Documenters Program to participate in the newsgathering process and contribute to a communal pool of knowledge. Anyone can become a Documenter by filling out a Documenters application and attending a Documenters Orientation.

What do Documenters do at public meetings?

Documenters may take notes, live-tweet, take photos and record audio/video. All Documenters are trained to follow any reasonable restrictions on their activity according to their state’s Open Meetings Act. Documenters program staff review all submitted content before it is made public on Documenters.org.

How does the Documenters Program select public meetings to attend?

We prioritize meetings related to issues that are timely and relevant to public discussion as well as meetings that may be overlooked. Most of the meetings we cover are hosted by public agencies subject to their state’s Open Meeting Act requirements, and in some cases we prioritize agencies that do not produce legally required meeting records in a timely fashion.

Are Documenters notes edited and/or reviewed?

The Documenters Program takes several steps to ensure notes are a fair and accurate representation of meetings. Documenters receive training in notetaking, social media, sourcing, fact-checking and legal issues related to public governance meetings. Documenter notes are reviewed by Documenters staff for general accuracy and potential defamation. As with professional news media, Documenters’ work is protected by the Fair Report Privilege, which provides significant protection to individuals seeking to inform readers about the official workings of their government.

Who can I contact about Documenters activity?

In Illinois: Contact India Daniels at documenters@citybureau.org

In Michigan: Contact Vassilis Jacobs at vassilis@citizendetroit.org