No doubt Chicago’s City Bureau would object to being identified at merely citizen journalism. But citizen journalism would benefit from their lessons:

Police accountability in Chicago would have been a meaty, important story anytime. But when City Bureau, a nonprofit community newsroom rooted in the city’s South and West sides, launched last fall with city policing as its initial focus, the timing hardly could have been more apt.

In mid-October the bureau published its first story, about protests over the acquittal of an officer who shot and killed a 22-year-old woman. Soon after, it held its first community forum, tied to the release of a database on police misconduct complaint. Then in mid-November, a judge ruled that dash-cam footage of an officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014 had to be released as a public record, setting off an activist campaign that would lead to the defeat of Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez last week in the Democratic primary.

The events thrust Chicago back to the forefront of a growing debate over police reform and accountability for abuse—and City Bureau, a creative startup that aims to train young journalists and improve coverage of underreported neighborhoods, also had a national story in its sights.

City Bureau is the brainchild of four young Chicagoans: Darryl Holliday, Bettina Chang, Andrea Hart, and Harry Backlund. Part training lab, part response to an era of slashed news budgets, the bureau is more a network and platform for partnerships than a traditional news outlet. Collaboration—among bureau members, with local neighborhoods, and with publications and other institutions—is central to the model.