North Dakota group pays community members to attend government meetings – InForum

A nonprofit online news outlet is working to re-engage the public in public gatherings.

Buffalo's Fire, a Native-run news organization based in Bismarck, and the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance are bringing a program called Documenters Network to North Dakota.

The program involves training (and paying) community members to attend local government meetings and take notes. Summaries of the sessions will be published online.

“This actually gives the people back the power to hold our elected officials accountable,” said Alicia Hegland-Thorpe, program manager for Bismarck Documenters.

Hegland-Thorpe recruits community members to cover meetings in the Bismarck-Mandan area as well as tribal council meetings. Organizers also want to expand coverage of state meetings in the future.

A free orientation was held in Bismarck on Wednesday, May 15, and more orientation events will be held in the future.

Once participants complete the training, they can view a list of upcoming meetings and select which ones they would like to cover. Hegland-Thorpe said documenters are paid between $17 and $24 an hour to cover a meeting, depending on complexity and distance, with an average job expected to be 2½ to 3 hours.

The training will prepare participants to focus on fact-based reporting rather than opinion, Hegland-Thorpe said. Notes from the sessions will be edited before publication.

“We also want it to be objective,” she said.

Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, editor of Buffalo's Fire, said this is the first rural and first Indigenous-led cohort to participate in the Documenters Network. It is open to anyone who wants to participate, she said.

“It’s a chance to engage the community and open the door for them to participate in meetings that impact their lives,” Spotted Bear said.

The Documenters Network was founded in 2018 by City Bureau, a nonprofit citizen journalism lab. The organization, which operates in 18 other cities, centralizes information about public gatherings in one searchable location.

Many of the meetings the documentary filmmakers cover are local meetings that are not typically reported in the media. For example, a participant in Akron, Ohio, covered a Vacant Buildings Board meeting last week and posted detailed notes and an audio recording of the meeting.

Visit the Bismarck Documenters website for more information on how to participate, as well as a link to local meetings in the area ranging from the Bismarck School Board to the Mandan Architectural Review Commission.

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