Published on October 6th, 2023
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, in collaboration with City Bureau, is thrilled to announce the official launch of the New Jersey Documenters program, an innovative initiative that will train and pay community members to attend and document public meetings and publish the results. This program is aimed at promoting civic engagement and transparency within communities across New Jersey.
New Jersey organizations can now apply to become one of three host organizations of the NJ Documenters program. We believe that anyone can be informed, engaged, and equipped to be a local news producer. The application deadline is 5 p.m. EST on Friday, November 17.
City Bureau is a journalism lab reimagining local media as a direct service to democracy. Their work is rooted in a belief that an equitable information system is the foundation for a just democracy, and their long term vision is a world in which every community is equipped with the tools it needs to eliminate information inequity and further liberation, justice, and self-determination.
City Bureau is a nonprofit journalism organization based in Chicago. With a mission to bring journalists and communities together, City Bureau strives to produce equitable and impactful journalism while encouraging civic participation. By providing training, resources, and platforms for collaboration, City Bureau equips individuals to use their voice and play an active role in shaping their communities. The Documenters Network was created in 2018 and focuses on equipping people to access and produce the information they need. Since then, the network has trained over 2,000 Documenters who have covered more than 5,000 public meetings across 11 cities.
The host organizations for the NJ Documenters program are crucial in ensuring the success and impact of the initiative. As a host site, each organization will be responsible for overseeing the operations of the program in its respective locations. This includes recruiting and training Documenters, scheduling their assignments, and providing them with the necessary resources and support. Host sites will also play a key role in editing and posting the content produced by Documenters, ensuring accuracy, clarity, and adherence to journalistic standards. Additionally, they will be responsible for promoting and raising awareness about the NJ Documenters program within their communities. By fulfilling these responsibilities, the host sites will contribute to the overall goal of promoting civic engagement, transparency, and informed decision-making in New Jersey.
By piloting Documenters in several locations across New Jersey we can showcase a model for how public and private funding can increase local journalism capacity, contribute to workforce development and equip local residents to hold their public officials to account. Over the course of the first year, we’ll aim to train more than 200 Documenters across the three selected locations.
The Consortium will conduct interviews with interested organizations this fall before making a final decision on the inaugural three locations.
To kick off the program, The Consortium hosted an informational webinar on October 17. This webinar will provide an in-depth overview of the NJ Documenters program, explaining the vital role of documenters and offering guidance on how to get involved. Whether you represent a news or civic organization, or you’re simply passionate about civic participation, this webinar is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the program and ask any questions you may have.
“We are thrilled to launch the NJ Documenters program in partnership with City Bureau,” said Chris Daggett, Board Chair and Interim Executive Director of the Consortium. “This program will empower individuals from all walks of life to actively contribute to the democratic process by ensuring that important public events are documented and accessible to all.”
Once launched, the NJ Documenters program will be open to all residents of New Jersey, regardless of an individual’s background or experience. Whether you have prior journalism experience or are completely new to the field, everyone is welcome to participate. More information on becoming a Documenter will be available in the coming months.
What are the responsibilities of a host site?
As a host site, each organization will be responsible for overseeing the operations of the program in its respective locations. This includes recruiting and training Documenters, scheduling their assignments, and providing them with the necessary resources and support. Host sites will also play a key role in editing and posting the content produced by Documenters, ensuring accuracy, clarity, and adherence to journalistic standards. Additionally, they will be responsible for promoting and raising awareness about the Documenters NJ program within their communities.
Will the Consortium make grants to the host organizations to cover the costs of the Documenters program, or will you pay people directly?
Yes, the Consortium will make grants to the host organizations to cover the costs of the program.
What expenses do the grants cover?
The grants cover the hourly wages and fringe benefits of each site’s Program Lead (est. $35/hr), as well as the hourly wages for the part-time Documenters (est. $20/hr) to cover the costs of the program at each site for at least one year.
How much will individual Documenters be paid?
Documenters will be paid $20/hr for their time attending, reporting, and submitting their work.
What is the timeline of the program?
The Consortium plans to select up to three host organizations in November. Once chosen, the grants will be distributed to the host organizations and a hiring process will be launched for local program managers in/around December. Recruitment will begin shortly after for part-time Documenters in January and February. In February, local staff will begin their staff orientation. By March, all Documenters should be trained and begin covering local public meetings.
Will the Consortium or City Bureau be involved in the hiring process for the project manager at the host organizations?
Yes, the Documenters Network staff will participate in the hiring process.
What makes a good host site?
We look for organizations with a dedicated civic mission, a commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion and a commitment to participatory civic media. Host organizations should be collaborative and open to new ways of gathering and sharing information.
I see City Bureau works mainly with news organizations in other cities where Documenters programs exist. Do you prefer to run Documenters through local news organizations?
Local information travels around communities in a number of ways. While news organizations play that role in some of our sites, in others a library or civic organization may play that role. In cities where Documenters are not based in a news organization, we work to coach local teams on creating news products, like newsletters, podcasts or explainer videos to make sure that people can access the information and news they need from the work of Documenters.
For more information about the Consortium, please visit our website at njcivicinfo.org.