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 Network, Documenters.org collects and displays public information in one centralized location, including dates, times, locations and documentation from public governance meetings in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Dozens of coders from around the world have contributed to our open-source and ongoing City Scrapers project, to make government meetings and official records more accessible to the public.
To date, over 2,200 people have enrolled in the Documenters Network. 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 Network partners envision a future in which all people are equipped with the tools and knowledge to effect change in their communities.
Who manages Documenters programs?
The Documenters Network currently operates in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. In Chicago, the program is led by City Bureau. In Cleveland, the program is operated by Neighborhood Connections. In Detroit, the program is operated by a collective consisting of CitizenDetroit, Detour Detroit, Outlier Media and WDET,
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 Network 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. While our trainings and paid assignments are rooted in journalism, Documenters are not assigned to produce traditional news articles—instead, they are creating a new public record based on templatized notes that can inform a range of civic actions. 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 each 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.
Is Documenters coverage edited and/or reviewed?
The Documenters Network 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 and fact-checked by Documenters program staff for 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.
Can I use Documenters content?
Yes. All Documenters content is published and may be freely used under the Attribution 4.0 International creative commons license (CC BY 4.0)—the most accommodating of all creative commons licenses offered. While Documenters work may be remixed, transformed, and built upon for any purpose, we encourage all users of Documenters content to exercise due diligence in confirming and fact-checking details you use as you would any other piece of information.
Under the Attribution 4.0 International licence you must give appropriate credit to Documenters.org. You may do so in any reasonable manner—i.e. linking to relevant Documenters.org pages and citing “Documenters.org”, the appropriate Documenter and/or Documenters Network partner—but not in any way that suggests Documenters Network partners endorses you or your use.
Who can I contact about Documenters activity?
In Chicago: Contact India Daniels at email@example.com
In Detroit: Contact Vassilis Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Cleveland: Contact Lawrence Caswell at email@example.com