At a time when journalists are combating concerns about “fake news” and media bias, ProPublica Illinois wanted to find new ways of building relationships with the people impacted by their reporting. “We knew that we’d need to think creatively how to bridge divides and earn trust if we wanted our journalism to resonate across the state’s diverse, geographically disparate communities.”

ProPublica and Illinois Humanities worked together to identify community partners in five locations, each with a different problem they wanted to discuss. Free Street custom-designed workshops for each location, each focused on a specific concern of interest to both journalists and community members.

For example, in Rock Island we facilitated a conversation about the impact of public perception, including media bias, on the local economy. Community members worked together to discuss challenges and imagine solutions.

“Free Street Theatre did a fantastic job of engaging the residents of Rock Island, IL in creative ways to address long-standing grievances and concerns. Through their help, we were able to focus more on solutions as opposed to complaints which will help drive our community forward. The workshop was not only fun but I left feeling a closer kinship to neighbors and constituents.”  -Dylan Parker, Rock Island Alderman

Other sites for the project include Toulon, Urbana-Champaign, Rockford, Chicago, and Loves Park/Rockford. At the end of the project, Free Street developed a flexible curriculum that the ProPublica team can adapt for use in future investigations.

Interested in your own experience? Contact Coya Paz: