Initially launched back in September 2016, Documenters is the latest programme run by City Bureau to improve involvement in local democracy, which gives local residents reporting training and then pays them to put those skills into practice.
The newly launched City Scrapers project now aims to accelerate that process, which has been a work in progress for a while.
"What was missing was the City Scrapers project, we were sending people out to meetings but they didn’t have that centralised list of the public meetings," explained India Daniels, field co-ordinator, City Bureau.
City Scrapers is an open-source tech platform, a combined effort between experienced and novice coders to produce a public meeting aggregator, first started in August 2017.
Local citizens can become a ‘documenter’ by signing up for an account, which profiles what local issues they are interested in covering and gauges their current ability in reporting.
'Documenters' can then use the new City Scraper-powered website to toggle through upcoming events, filter by topic and area, currently extended into Chicago and Detroit.
From here they can apply for assignments but not before attending at least one training session in either note-taking, live-streaming or audio-recording.
Training is carried out by journalists in two-hour stints. After that, the 'documenters' are ready to go.
Better yet, they are paid at a base rate of $16-per-hour for reporting at events and also compensated for an hour-and-a-half of beforehand preparation or any follow-ups. This seeks to address the amount of public meetings that go unreported.
"City Bureau was started out of that larger concern that media needs to shift how it responds to things, when there are those funding cuts public meetings often one of the things which falls by the wayside because they are long and detailed," said Daniels.
Launching TODAY: Your city officials are making big decisions. We’re making it easy to keep tabs at https://t.co/PLC9Qz18xm—starting in #Chicago and #Detroit.— City Bureau (@city_bureau) January 8, 2019
Let’s reimagine accountability ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/ANC4c4Phe4
Currently, the programme runs five assignments a week and Daniels is in charge of delegating those out to applicants based on interests and experience, but said 'documenters' can only report on what they have been trained in.
"We try to keep the bar for involvement low because we want as many people who are interested in this to participate," she said.
They are also supplied with a field guide which goes over import areas of media law and other practical checklists.
After submitting their notes, they are reviewed by City Bureau and then published for public use. This is something that local journalists can then pick up and benefit from, said Daniels.
"We’ve gotten responses from journalists already that they were interested in a set of public meetings but were not sure about how to go about it. Now, we have all that information in one place and they can easily access it. That directly helps journalists.
"I think we’re not just for journalists, we want to share those journalistic skills with the public and equipping people with those skills to be more engaged."
This follows other programmes by City Bureau including the ten-hour paid fellowship and public newsroom.
“We want it to be an open resource and community that journalists are benefiting from but also that public and governments become more responsive about what people care about."
Find out how to tap into your regional readership at Newsrewired on 6 March 2019 at Reuters, London.