Grassroot media organizations fill gaps in Evanston’s media landscape

Our Evanston, Dear Evanston and Evanston Rules are three local media organizations, all established within the last decade, that aim to engage the immediate community through resident-first reporting.

These emerging outlets have been established amid an existing crisis in local news: According to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, nearly 1,800 local newspapers have closed since 2004. But the founders of these organizations are seeking to meet Evanston’s news needs through different platforms.

Our Evanston

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Our Evanston founder Ande Bruenig said she saw a need for better support of the retail community in reaching potential homebound customers. As a result, she started a Facebook group called Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios. Page visitors asked each other for recommendations on where to shop for everything from new dentists to places to buy baptism gifts.

After observing the group’s traction, Bruenig decided to move some content offline and develop a quarterly retail community magazine catering to an audience that wasn’t on social media as frequently. She said placing magazines in stores exclusively has also encouraged readers to interact directly with local businesses.

“It’s really a partnership…(and) a collaboration,” Bruenig said. “I made friends during the pandemic through the Facebook page, and a lot of them are partners in collaboration with me.”

Bruenig said she prioritizes environmental and financial sustainability by partnering with ReLeaf, an organization that replants trees to account for the magazine’s paper consumption, as well as by offering low advertising prices when she can. In the future, Bruenig said she hopes to build Our Evanston’s brand through community partnerships.

“Evanston is really smart about the media that is provided for our citizens,” Bruenig said. “Part of the reason that the media enterprises are largely successful, it’s because we have such a mindful and involved community.”

Dear Evanston

Nina Kavin, co-founder of Dear Evanston, said she wouldn’t consider her publication a traditional media outlet. To her, her mission is less focused on delivering hard news; rather, Kavin seeks to engage communities across racial and socioeconomic issues through storytelling and activism.

Started in 2016 as a community project focused on local youth gun violence, Dear Evanston started on Instagram and Facebook but has expanded to host programming such as book groups, buses to political events and fundraising for minority-owned businesses. In 2019, Dear Evanston organized a trip to Montgomery, AL that focused on the legacy of slavery.

“It just evolved into talking about gun violence and talking about racial equity and talking about people’s life experiences,” Kavin said. “It went from my husband being [the first] follower, to I think 12,000 or 15,000 followers.”

While COVID-19 has prevented Dear Evanston from hosting its activism-focused community events, Kavin has continued promoting Black-owned and minority-owned businesses through fundraising efforts.

Because the website clearly takes stances on social issues, she said she doesn’t see Dear Evanston as adhering to “true news” and rather a “connecting entity” that engages in activism while telling stories.

“People are so inundated by a 24/7 news cycle nationally (and) internationally,” Kavin said. “(We) do it a little bit more slowly and to focus in depth on people’s experiences in a very informal way.”

Evanston Rules

Founded by Evanston residents Laurice Bell and Ron Whitmore in 2020, Evanston Rules is a podcast that aims to tell the stories of Evanston residents through a Black perspective, according to Bell and Whitmore. Growing up in Evanston, both said they saw a divide between the Evanston they lived in and the Evanston that people talked about.

“Both Ron and I are Black, and we tell stories from our own perspectives, which is part of what we feel is missing,” Bell said.

The podcast is organized into hour-long episodes that feature local community members. Beyond the podcast itself, Bell and Whitmore said they also organize community events and fundraisers for organizations including the Fellowship of Afro-American Men.

Bell said Evanston Rules operates with the intention of reflecting though Black people are not a monolith, there are sometimes throughlines in the experiences of Black residents which listeners can identify in individual stories. After Bell and Whitmore started the podcast, dozens of citizens from across town came out and asked to be interviewed on the podcast.

As Evanston locals, they said they use their deep understanding of prominent residents, combined with provided by elders, to inform the community with a diverse set of perspectives. A few guests who appeared on the show include Evanston’s first Black police chief, William H. Logan Jr. and community leader Hecky Powell of Hecky’s Barbecue.

Evanston RoundTable, another local publication, announced in March that it would start featuring episodes of Evanson Rules on their website, newsletter and various mobile platforms. Even though they’ve started streaming on another platform, Whitmore and Bell are adamant about making sure the same mission of diversifying dominant narratives stays true.

“It’s not about the stories being told incorrectly. It’s just about not telling the stories,” Whitmore said. “When you make a good gumbo, you put a little bit of everything in it, right?”

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Twitter: @WhoIsAlexPerry

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