Today, RANGE is announcing a new and extremely exciting partnership with Documenters — a nationwide organization that helps newsrooms like ours recruit, train and (most importantly) pay residents to attend public meetings, take notes, and expand the public record. This program builds on the strength of our CIVICS newsletter to further RANGE’s mission to give everyone the tools to better understand what is happening in our corridors of power and make their voice heard.
We’re calling it Inland Northwest Documenters because, though it will start in Spokane, our plan is to place Documenters wherever there is a need for sunlight. With a community of independent observers, we’ll be keeping tabs on the decisions elected leaders make throughout our region.
We are doing this to build on RANGE’s invaluable original civic reporting, and we’re doing it to rebuild a key aspect of the watchdog journalism that used to be so common in this region within our lifetimes.
Less than twenty years ago, Spokanites could find local reporters in dozens of public meetings each week, ready to report on crucial government decisions to keep our communities aware. Those reporters still exist (two of them are collabing this piece you’re reading), but our numbers are a fraction of what they were, as is the entire industry’s ability to cover everything that happens with the breadth and depth we all deserve.
Today, the total number of working journalists in Spokane is fewer than the news staff of just the Spokesman-Review in the 1990s. Documenters are community members, not trained reporters, and can’t replace the work a reporter does. They can, though, cover more ground, documenting meetings reporters don’t always have time for, so that reporters — and members of the public — can better understand what happened and follow up.
The fewer eyes watching our elected and appointed officials, the easier it is for them to act without considering the consequences of their actions on everyday people. Since starting our CIVICS newsletter, we’ve witnessed dozens of decisions made with almost no public awareness, let alone public comment.
Inland Northwest Documenters will change that.
We started RANGE to change the way journalism is done in the Spokane area. Almost exactly three years later, we are deeply honored to have been selected as the first newsroom in the entire Northwest to join the Documenters network. We appreciate the trust the Documenters team placed in us to launch this program.
We believe Spokane has a super power: the community here shows up. Between the outsized successes of community institutions like Bloomsday, Hoopfest and Terrain — and the work our community has already done to support RANGE — we do things here that would be unthinkable in many other communities our size. We’re confident that, if any community can punch way, way above its weight and deliver the kind of citizen oversight we deserve, it’s this one.
In all likelihood, we’re never again going to see as many career journalists as we had during journalism’s heyday, but we can — and will — build something that aspires to match that impact, while also creating something no one dreamed of back then: a platform for everyday people to gather together and, with just a pen and notepad (or, y’know, a laptop) shine dozens of lights into the shadowiest reaches of our corridors of power.
It’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s work we’re investing in. To signal our commitment to growing RANGE’s accountability journalism, we are also announcing a new position we’re hiring to lead the Documenters program: Civics Editor.
We’re going to be recruiting residents across Spokane County to do this crucial work and get paid for their time starting in November.
To sign up for updates about our launch schedule and training, fill out this form.
Here’s how you can help:
We have a huge job ahead of us, and we can’t do it without you.
- Become a member of RANGE. Bringing Documenters to Spokane and making sure we’re able to pay community members for their work will more than double our current annual budget. For $10/month or $100/year (we also have higher tiers!) you can be part of this mission of informing and equipping our community to make change. Become a member here.
- Become a Documenter. Are you interested in attending a weekly meeting and informing your community? Are you interested in exploring journalism? Are you part of an organization that wants to bring change to your community? Whether it’s your kid’s school board making curriculum changes, the county commission deciding to sue Camp Hope, or the Plan Commission making zoning changes, we want more eyes and ears in these meetings. And, just a reminder in case you’re worried about skill level: we’re going to train you and pay you for your time. Let us know you’re interested here.
- Tell us what needs to be documented in Spokane. Is there a board, task force or commission you think deserves more attention or a problem you’ve seen and you want to figure out who’s in charge of fixing it? Reach out to email@example.com or on our Discord and let us know what public meetings you think deserve more attention from our growing team.
- Help us find the big bucks. If you’re a granting organization or nonprofit or a donor and you want to support this work with a grant, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Inland Northwest Documenters is funded (so far)
Speaking of grants, we wouldn’t have been able to launch Inland Northwest Documenters this year without the help of Empire Health Foundation. The funding they’ve provided to start this program goes straight back into building RANGE’s capacity to do this work and equipping community members with the tools and expertise to shine more light into local halls of power.
Does this funding present a conflict of interest? No! Because we’ve taken careful measures to ensure full editorial independence in all of our work. Read our full editorial independence policy here.
More about the Documenters Network:
This innovative and award-winning program was birthed in Chicago from the City Bureau newsroom, and focuses on equipping people to access and produce the information they need.
The Documenters Network so far includes nine newsrooms across the US, from big cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, to mid-sized cities like Fresno and Omaha. They’ve trained more than 1,800 people across the network and are only getting bigger.