Detroiters Work to Document Public Meetings and Increase Communal Knowledge

Candice Fortman

Detroit Documenters public forum hosted at Jam Handy in New Center.


WDET Digital


Public meetings are important spaces for democracy where any resident can participate in civic life and hold public figures accountable. But how does the public know when meetings are happening? It isn’t easy! These events are spread across dozens of websites, rarely in useful data formats.

City Bureau first launched the Documenters project in Chicago, training 370 Documenters who have documented nearly 100 public meetings. With the support from the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, City Bureau piloted a Documenters project in Detroit in collaboration with WDET and CitizenDetroit.  Together we trained and hired local community members to spend 73 hours documenting 12 education-related public meetings in Detroit.

LINK: Read more about the project partners and funders. >>

The Goal

The goal of Documenters project is to train community members with a range of journalistic skills, including social media reporting and on-site note-taking, in order to thoroughly document the public meetings in their community and in doing so participate in civic life and hold public figures accountable. 

The Outcome

Over the course of two months City Bureau, WDET and Citizen Detroit coordinated 24 assignments across 12 education-related meetings in Detroit.

We hosted two free public trainings and a public forum modeled on City Bureau’s Public Newsroom that introduced the Documenters pilot program to Detroit. Those three events drew more than 50 people.

Documenters produced 12 live-tweet threads, 22 sets of meeting notes and gained a deeper understanding of the civic processes that affect education in Detroit.

Lessons Learned

Based on the feedback from those who participated in the forum, trainings and assignments, participants would like to see the project include a process for giving Documenters constructive feedback on their work and a more robust training program.


WDET Digital


Candice Fortman

Detroit Documenters free training sessions hosted at the CitizenDetroit offices. Participants learned about a range of journalistic skills like social media reporting and on-site note-taking.


Several of the Detroit Documenters were given training and asked to live-tweet the public meetings they attended. Below are some examples.


Documenters collected and digitized all printed materials provided at each meeting.





Documenters Mobile App

In January of 2019, City Bureau will release its Documenters mobile app. The free app will house all meeting notes, documents and observations from public meetings attended by Chicago and Detroit Documenters.

Sign up to get notified when it’s released >>

Review and Part 2

WDET, City Bureau and CitizenDetroit will review the past month’s experience using participant feedback and revise the process for a second iteration of the Detroit Documenters Project to launch in the spring of 2019.

Image credit: Candice Fortman

This post is a part of Detroit Documenters .

WDET is partnering with City Bureau and CitizenDetroit on a civic journalism project to increase awareness and coverage of public meetings in Detroit. The Documenters pilot trains and pays highly engaged citizens to participate in the newsgathering process and contribute to a new public record for the city.



City Bureau is a nonprofit civic media organization 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.




WDET 101.9FM, Detroit’s Public Radio Station, creates and curates a mix of news, music and cultural content that is unique as the city and region we serve. As community service of Wayne State University, we use the power of our broadcast and digital channels to inspire and educate listeners at home and away. WDET is committed to enhancing life in Detroit through independent journalism and meaningful community engagement.




CitizenDetroit educates residents to be fully engaged in the democratic life of the city with reputable information to make informed policy/political decisions. We encourage resident participation in the renaissance of neighborhoods/businesses by establishing and monitoring metrics that measure confidence in city government. CitizenDetroit is comprised of a Policy Lab for impartial analysis, a Civic Exchange event series for facilitated, factual discussions and EngageD for constructive citizen action.




Support for this project comes from the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a partnership between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. The fund seeks to advance quality journalism while reflecting the perspectives of diverse constituencies including people of color, women and low-income communities.

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