Civic Nebraska and The Nebraska Journalism Trust are re-establishing the Omaha Documenters civic journalism initiative, with plans to expand the service into new areas of Nebraska.
Documenters are engaged citizens who are recruited, trained, and paid to participate in the newsgathering process and contribute to a communal pool of knowledge. This network of community members attends local public meetings and shares government actions via detailed note-taking. Those fact-checked notes are then published for anyone to use while building a permanent public record of the local decisions being made.
The Nebraska Journalism Trust, which publishes Flatwater Free Press, views Documenters as a valuable piece of its vision to build a vibrant news ecosystem in Nebraska. Having trained, engaged residents in public meetings will provide basic watchdog capacity to dozens of government bodies, Executive Director Matt Wynn said.
“Documenters allows us to do intense local coverage as we train the next generation of journalists,” Wynn said. “The program is the perfect addition to our portfolio.”
Long term, Civic Nebraska and NJT plan to expand the initiative beyond Omaha. The Trust will provide journalistic support for the citizen Documenters, whose work appears here, and is now accepting job applications from those interested in leading the project. Those interested in learning more about the new position can visit this link.
Civic Nebraska will support citizen Documenters in honing civic skills and help further community engagement opportunities – systems literacy, community asset mapping, and building their understanding of civil discourse and civic health. Civic Nebraska also will assist NJT in identifying, recruiting, and training new Documenters in communities around the state.
“Documenters tend to be deeply engaged in their communities, and Civic Nebraska will provide them the tools to guide them in their larger community-building work,” said Adam Morfeld, Civic Nebraska’s executive director. “Understanding their communities’ official and unofficial power structures, identifying local stakeholders and groups, and recognizing signs of productive or poor discourse at public meetings are all essential to being an effective Documenter.”
The partnership will assume the Documenters project from the Omaha Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, which brought the program started by the national Documenters Network in 2022. The Documenters Network was created in 2018 by Chicago’s City Bureau, a nonprofit civic journalism lab that equips people to access and produce the information they need. The Network has trained and paid more than 1,700 Documenters who have covered more than 2,300 public meetings in collaboration with communities and newsrooms in the Midwest.
Open Sky Policy Institute, the Platte Institute, and News Channel Nebraska will provide additional support.