Adventures in curious citizenship

Kathy Herwig, VSA Partners’ Associate Director of Content Strategy, recently took part in a listener-driven journalistic experiment from Chicago’s WBEZ radio station called Curious City, which paired reporters with local citizens who sought answers to questions about Chicago. Seeing multiple names for an area Herwig considered moving to, she submitted the question, “Who decides when a specific area of the city becomes an officially recognized ‘neighborhood?’” WBEZ invited Kathy to work with reporter Darryl Holliday and illustrator E.N. Rodriguez from Illustrated Press to find out.

Herwig walked Holliday and Rodriguez around her neighborhood while Rodriguez took photos, shot video and sketched illustrations. They then interviewed local historians and city planners to find official answers about the differences between community areas and neighborhoods. Curious City brought the pair on board to present the finished piece in an unusual medium: comics journalism. “We didn’t see anything like it on the media landscape at the time,” Holliday said, “so we knew it’d be a great way to tell stories that people would engage with on multiple levels.” Both Holliday and Rodriguez work in media on a daily basis, but enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with a more creative outlet. According to Holliday, “The Illustrated Press lets us be more creative and experimental—finding new ways of mixing journalism and art.”

About her Curious City experience, Herwig added, “Part of what I do at VSA is to help clients plan the media types and formats through which they tell their stories. Knowing that digital content is becoming more visual every day, it was gratifying to not only watch a new storytelling process take shape, but an honor to be a subject. I hope fellow Chicagoans will prove the experiment a success, especially by submitting their own questions.”

The resulting story, “What’s in a (Neighborhood) Name?” took a number of forms: It aired on WBEZ and the interactive comic strip appeared on the WBEZ website under the title Kathy Has a Question. Holliday and Rodriguez took advantage of the digital medium to add Soundcloud recordings and images via their blog. The comic is now one of the stories on exhibit at “Illustrated Press: Chicago,” at the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago through July 28.

Update: Meet Herwig, Holliday and Rodriguez and hear more about the entire Kathy Has a Question experience at the Harold Washington Library Center on Wednesday, June 26 at 6:00 pm for a special event, the Illustrated Press Gallery Talk and Tour.