Fresnoland’s core mission is to make policy public. Local policy decisions are made by city councils, county boards of supervisors, and a myriad of tiny government agencies that most people have never heard of.
Most newsrooms (including ours!) don’t have enough resources to cover every single public meeting. A lot of really important information doesn’t get enough sunlight by the public. To fill that critical gap, we looked to civic journalism superstar City Bureau in Chicago to create our Documenters program, modeled after theirs.
The core idea: what if we paid community members to participate in creating a more open government?
We have now trained two cohorts of over 60 residents across Fresno, Madera, and Tulare Counties to cover public meetings across the central San Joaquin Valley. They’ve received instruction on open meetings law, live-tweeting, note-taking, and media ethics.
We’ve covered over 300 public meetings in just 18 months. The notes that the Documenters create are posted on our website. Some also live-tweet, including the Fresno and Clovis City Council meetings.
The Fresno Documenters come from a large variety of backgrounds: we have high-schoolers and college students; we have retirees. Many Documenters are bilingual in Spanish and English.
How can I become a Documenter?
We’ll be opening a new cohort of Documenters in August. Stay tuned for more details here or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for future announcements.
What’s the process of becoming a Documenter like?
If selected to join our next cohort, you’ll be required to participate in about 4-6 training sessions of about 1-1.5 hours each where you’ll learn about media ethics, note-taking, open meeting laws, interviewing, and live-tweeting.
What is the pay and hours like for a typical Documenter?
Documenters make $20 per hour on assignment – this includes their time for covering the meeting as well as the time it takes to clean up their notes into a standardized format.
A typical assignment lasts anywhere from 1 – 4 hours.
Assignments are made on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no minimum guarantee of hours for a Documenter.
How do I know if I’m qualified to be a Documenter?
We train you, so no prior experience required! That being said, we do screen potential Documenters for conflicts of interest that might impede your ability to document public meetings in a fair and impartial way. Documenters cannot be public or elected officials or work for the public agency they are covering.
Do you have suggestions on how to improve our Documenters program?
We want to hear from you! Please fill out the form below with your ideas.