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Bringing Theater and Investigative Reporters to You

Here are the places ProPublica Illinois and Free Street Theater will be visiting. Will we see you there?

Photo composite: Newsroom photo: Logan Jaffe/ProPublica Illinois; Stage photo courtesy of Free Street Theater

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

We told you two weeks ago that we were headed to Toulon as part of our collaboration with Free Street Theater. The aim of this project is to visit with people around Illinois and bring them together to talk about their relationship to the news and information in and about their communities — not in a boring panel way, but in a way that's fun, genuine, collaborative and interactive. In a way that helps people talk to each other (and to us) across differences.

We are interested in what people have to say about their communities: what is special, what is misunderstood and what needs change. And we want to work with people to tell their own stories.

What exactly does that look like? Well, we don’t have a formula yet. The workshops will be adapted to each host city, to the people and the news of each place.

How did we pick these places? It was sort of easy. We were invited. We introduced our project and said we needed some help figuring out where to go. As a relatively new media organization in Illinois based in Chicago, we wanted to make sure we leave “our bubble” and travel the state.

We chose the locations based on the details of the invitation, as well as the diversity in urban, suburban and rural locations. And while these are the first batch of locations, we still want to know what’s up in your town. So please keep sending these invitations. Whether for this project or another, we want to visit you.

So, here’s where we’re going, in addition to Toulon:


Before we hit the road, we thought it’d only make sense to test out the idea in Chicago since ProPublica Illinois and Free Street are both based there. And Free Street’s new storefront location in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood provides an ideal spot to get to know and learn from residents who live in the south and southwest parts of the city. We anticipate a lively turnout. We plan to build on Chicago's ongoing conversation about representation in local media, the ownership of community narratives, and ways to tell stories not just about a neighborhood, but with a neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 21

4346 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60609

Doors at 6:30 p.m., workshop starts promptly at 7 p.m. Plan for about two hours.

We’ll have snacks!

Please RSVP here.


Here, we were contacted by Brian Dolinar, program director of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. For nearly 20 years, the center has functioned as a community-media multi-tool: It publishes an independent newspaper, The Public Eye; runs a low-power radio station; and provides media training and regularly hosts events and discussions. Dolinar says the center has been focusing on issues such as housing, prisons, policing and net neutrality — and regularly draws in not only students from the nearby University of Illinois, but also an intergenerational, racially and ethnically diverse group of residents.

Saturday, May 5

Independent Media Center

202 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, Illinois 61801

1 p.m. - 3 p.m.

Carbondale/Jackson County

This invitation came from Sarah Patrick, the administrator of the Jackson County Health Department in southern Illinois. Patrick also looped in Kathy Renfro, executive director of the Carbondale Park District, and we reached out to Alee Quick, digital editor at The Southern Illinoisan (the paper is also part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network!). We put our heads together, and one question kept coming up: What does a “healthy” community look like? And how does your “news diet” play a role? We’ll be exploring this idea and more the first Sunday in May in southern Illinois.

Sunday, May 6

Exact time and location TBD, but plan to head out to a park district pavilion

Rock Island/Quad Cities

The invite came from Dylan Parker, a 29-year-old former diesel mechanic and now alderman of Rock Island’s 5th ward. Rock Island sits in the northwest part of the state, along the Mississippi River. One issue he points to is “disparity in economic development between Rock Island and neighboring communities, specifically competition from Iowa communities.”

“We’re always hearing statewide news reporting about how terrible Illinois is, and how everyone is leaving,” Parker said. “And there’s a lot of frustration among Rock Islanders because we feel there is something worthwhile to living in Rock Island.”

Parker said he’s concerned that the standards being highlighted in the media for what makes a community “good” — such as job growth, schools and economic development — overlook what he sees as the unique benefits a place such as Rock Island offers.

“We’re racially diverse, we have a downtown ... residents of Rock Island will appreciate someone coming in and allowing the community to have a conversation as to why all of us on the Illinois side [of the river] feel the game is rigged against us, and to allow people space to express their frustration and explore why we continue to choose to live here,” he said.

Date and time TBD, likely mid-May


We first heard from Shane Nicholson, managing editor of the Rock River Times, when we asked for your help defining “Downstate” Illinois. Nicholson used the term “Upstate” to situate Rockford, a city about 100 miles northwest of Chicago.

“If you ever want to see some Upstate, come on out to Rockford someday!” Nicholson wrote us in November. Now, we’re happy to say we’re taking him up on the offer to learn more about the specific challenges and issues in the city. The Rock River Times is an independent, weekly newspaper, dedicated to in-depth coverage on a local level. Check it out.

Date and location TBD

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