When we launched Omaha Documenters last year, we knew we had a problem. Every week, essential conversations and decisions impacting the lives of Omahans occur across a series of public meetings. This is where democracy happens, but in Omaha, most meetings come and go with no media presence. These meetings are often held in the middle of the day — when most people are at work — and making sense of their rules and procedures isn’t easy.
Democracy needs independent observers to hold the government accountable and prevent misinformation from spreading. Even a single person attending a meeting can change how officials behave and influence their decisions. That’s why we train (and pay) Omaha residents to be Documenters — dedicated citizens who attend government meetings and write down what happens. Notes from the meetings are made public on our website to build an information resource that the broader community can access to stay tuned in to the decisions that impact them.
We’re part of a national network of Documenters working to increase local journalism capacity. Here, we can create points of access for BIPOC Omahans and fill the need for information that addresses structural inequities. By paying Documenters, we’re working toward a local media ecosystem that leads with real community equity and puts the “public” back into public meetings.
What We’ve Done
Omaha Documenters launched in the Fall of 2022, training our first cohort of Documenters to cover meetings in October. In February 2023, more Documenters joined our team, allowing us to cover 25 government agencies including Omaha City Council, Omaha Streetcar Authority, public school boards, the Omaha Planning Board, Omaha Metro Board of Directors, and Douglas County Board of Commissioners, among others.
In just a few short months, we’ve trained over 50 people from across Omaha and covered over 210 meetings, either through live-tweeting or note-taking.
We’ve launched a biweekly newsletter — which you can sign up for here — where we share our reporting and explain what’s happening in local government.
We’re also working on a “Local Government 101” series, with Documenters currently researching ten different government bodies to understand how they conduct business and make decisions. We hope that with a better understanding of how each body works, community members will be more willing and able to participate in local government and advocate on important local issues to them.
How can I get involved?
Become a Documenter! You don’t need a journalism background to get started. You just need to be interested in your local community and have a desire to share information with others. Email our director, Abbie Kretz, at email@example.com or fill out our interest form here.
Support our work by donating today!
Sign up for our newsletter to get local reporting delivered to your inbox every other Monday. We’ll also keep you posted on upcoming events and trainings.
This guest blog was written by Abbie Kretz, executive director of Omaha Documenters.