By Tracy L. Brown
Chief content officer, Chicago Public Media, parent company of WBEZ, The Chicago Sun-Times and Vocalo

In January 2022, Chicago Public Media, home of WBEZ, acquired The Chicago Sun-Times, a legacy newspaper that was just one year away from marking 75 years as a local news institution. Together, WBEZ and the Sun-Times would not only become the largest news organization in the city, but one of the largest nonprofit newsrooms in the country. 

From the onset, the goal has been about transformative collaboration to  create human-centered, solutions-oriented local journalism. Almost 18 months in, we’ve leveraged organizational strengths in breaking news, investigations, audio storytelling and authoritative reporting in politics, education, criminal justice, race and equity, data and engagement journalism.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done in reaching millions of readers and listeners each day across multiple platforms that include print, broadcast, digital, social media and podcasts. We’ve collaborated not just with each other, but with several local and national newsrooms as well as community groups and universities. And notably, we lifted the Sun-Times digital paywall in order to provide access to all. 

The last 18 months have been an exciting and inspiring journey – melding talent, people and culture. We are equally inspired by the work we have planned over the next 18 months. In May, Chicago Public Media launched the Democracy Solutions Project in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Center for Effective Government. With an eye toward the 2024 General Election, we recognize that there are major and ongoing threats against democracy – from local school boards to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Each month, we’ll center our journalism around a theme or topic such as judicial justice, extremism, voter suppression, and how the government works. We’ll work to extend the reach of our coverage across the WBEZ and Sun-Times newsrooms, shows, community engagement and live events, the Sun-Times editorial board and our music station, Vocalo. In addition, The Center for Effective Government will weigh in on conversations and provide connections with policymakers, thought leaders and political leaders.

We recognize that we can’t do it alone, so we’ll continue to cultivate partnerships with newsrooms across the city and country. We’ll work with community groups, schools, and local leaders to address issues and concerns weighing on just about everyone as the 2024 election season takes shape. Some of the answers we seek may even take us on journeys to other cities, states and countries. 

We hope to create intimate spaces for safe conversations around polarized politics, race and class. We also plan to create tools that educate as well as resource guides that inform and engage. The work we’ve done in recent years around engagement journalism – most recently with the People’s Agenda – provides a proven path to giving our readers and listeners a voice in shaping our coverage before, during and after our published work.

The name of the project – The Democracy Solutions Project – captures the spirit of this initiative that will span a year and a half. We aim to not just sound alarms, but to explore solutions that can empower governments and individuals to make a difference. There has been a lot of research lately showing the correlation between voter turnout and access to independent local journalism. Our mission and our responsibility is to support and serve a democratic society – with questions and answers.

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