There are upwards of 150 City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County governmental departments and agencies holding public meetings and conducting public business every day in Northeast Ohio, but many agencies receive no media coverage or even produce records of what was discussed.
Enter the Documenters—an organization new to Cleveland that sends trained civic reporters to public meetings to track the decisions being made each day.
“It’s an organization really focused on neighborhoods and communities and building that network,” explains Lawrence Daniel Caswell, field coordinator for the Cleveland Documenters.
He says the Documenters are looking for civil reporters to record and track the proceedings within these public meetings, giving an accurate record of the decisions city and county officials are making.
In turn, the public, neighborhood organizations and groups, and reporters can see what happened at the meetings, and access the discussions at previous meetings.
The Documenters began in Chicago in 2016 under the guidance of City Bureau’s Civic Journalism Lab. Organizers then took the project to Detroit, and now to Cleveland under Neighborhood Connections.
“The Cleveland Documenters will train and pay residents to attend public meetings for governments in Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland,” says Caswell. “Our goal here is to have two documenters at every meeting—one [documenter] taking notes, one live Tweeting.”
Becoming a documenter is an opportunity to learn about local government, Caswell says, as well as contribute to an ongoing report of what officials are doing. He says the Documenters maintain an ongoing reporting of meetings its reporters attend, as well as an up-to-date list of all upcoming meetings.
“One of the things about becoming a documenter is it’s a great way to learn about how government operates in these rooms,” says Caswell. “[We want to] build on how these documenters can build on their knowledge and skills.”
Caswell says the goal for Cleveland’s pilot year is to recruit 100 documenters to attend 300 meetings by the end of the year.
“That’s 100 folks learning about business in these meetings and picking up that knowledge,” he explains. “Then sharing that knowledge and disseminating it.”
Caswell says anyone can sign up for the training and become a documenter. The organization will hold an open house this Thursday, Sept. 3, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to find out more about the job. Registration is required.