The Informed Village, a Black-led Evanston local media outlet centered on the city’s 2021 municipal elections, is set to launch by the end of this year.
The publication was one of 24 projects chosen in September out of over 250 team applications to be a part of the Google News Initiative cohort, an initiative to launch news publications throughout the U.S. and Canada and help them adapt to the digital age.
Through this program, Christa Shavers, who will serve as the editor-in-chief of The Informed Village, said she and Bobby Burns, the publication’s founder and business manager, underwent an 8-week online boot camp detailing how to adhere to traditional journalistic values while adapting to a changing news industry.
While Shavers and Burns initially intended to use the platform to provide information about the candidates on the ballot for spring aldermanic elections, they have shifted to highlighting prominent issues impacting voters, like housing, employment and policing in the community. They also plan to provide information on candidate forums as they occur.
Shavers and Burns made the shift after interviews with community members around what would be helpful. They also decided to veer away from directly covering candidates because Burns, a longtime 5th Ward resident and community organizer, is running for 5th Ward Alderman.
“If you don’t really understand the issue, It’s going to be hard for you to determine how you feel about the decision that that politician has taken,” Burns said. “Although we’re not going to do a candidate guide, we’ll still offer a really important benefit to the public by helping them understand the issues that the politicians will be talking about during this election cycle.”
The Informed Village is a continuation of the work Burns has been doing through the Evanston Collective, a reparatory justice organization.
Through its online platform, the Evanston Collective has highlighted food insecurity and discriminatory policing in the city and pushed for the Evanston Public Library to be more receptive to the needs of underserved communities. Burns said he will continue to emphasize racial equity issues through this new medium.
Burns said they are focused on closing the information gap in the 5th Ward, a goal Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) shares. Burns said Rue Simmons was critical in the group joining the Google News initiative.
Shavers and Burns hope to take a community-based approach to their journalism, which Burns said can add greater context and expertise to stories.
Shavers said this approach will create more well-rounded stories and allow for people to participate in the stories about their communities.
“From my own standpoint, journalism talks about the community to the community, so why not include the community in their own story?” Shavers said.
The Informed Village is a Black-led platform, which the pair said will shape their coverage. Burns said in traditionally White-led newsrooms, issues that are important to the Black community don’t get adequate attention. He said in general, the people in charge of the newsroom have a significant impact on the stories covered, and how they are covered.
Burns and Shavers’ identities as young African-American professionals and social entrepreneurs, he said, will provide a unique frame of content production, which will be a service to the public.
Evanston resident Tracy Fulce said the stakes this municipal election season are particularly high, so this outlet will be helpful in equipping residents with information about the prominent issues and candidates. Kemone Hendricks, resident and community leader, shared a similar thought.
“Evanston politics can get a bit messy at times… but when it comes to local elections it’s extremely important for folks to be properly informed about candidates and it’s great that the initiative is coming from Black residents,” Hendricks said in an email.
As the outlet grows, Shavers said they hope to expand their coverage to include more beats on healthcare, minority-owned small businesses, community activism and more.
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