Skip to Main Content
Explore News

Introducing AmyJo Brown, Knight Lab Professional Fellow

AmyJo Brown.
An independent editor and founder of War Streets Media, Brown’s work is centered on the specific organizational challenges of doing good journalism at the local level.

EVANSTON, ILL. -- AmyJo Brown, a veteran journalist passionate about supporting and reshaping local political journalism and who it engages, has joined the Knight Lab as a 2022-2023 professional fellow. The Knight Lab is housed at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

Her focus is on building The Public Ledger, a data tool structured from local campaign finance data that is designed to track connections and make local political relationships – and their influence – more visible.

“Campaign finance data has more stories to tell – if we follow the money,” Brown said.

An independent editor and founder of War Streets Media, Brown’s work is centered on the specific organizational challenges of doing good journalism at the local level. She consults with news leaders on sustainability issues and editorial strategies, and helps stand up new initiatives and develop talent.

Recent clients have included the American Press Institute, Spotlight PA, and the Texas Tribune, with project work related to diversity and inclusion efforts, designing and facilitating stakeholder listening sessions, and helping to manage elections coverage. Other recent notable work includes developing and launching the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, a grant-funded collaborative of about two dozen local news organizations, and leading it through its first two years as its members grappled with the business challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown has also been a member of the Democracy Fund’s Ecosystem Builders cohort since 2021, and was part of the 2019 cohort of Take the Lead: 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism. She is also a dedicated journalism teacher: An experienced adjunct instructor at the university level who frequently hosts workshops for professional journalists and volunteers at summer programs geared toward high school students.

“The Knight Lab wants to partner with professionals who are committed to advancing the craft of journalism,” said Medill professor and Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy Jeremy Gilbert. “The work AmyJo has already done to help make campaign finance data accessible for reporting and community members is impressive. The Lab is excited to help her build out The Public Ledger and scale access to this incredibly valuable information. We are lucky to have AmyJo’s energy and expertise as a part of the Knight Lab this year.”

Brown’s plan for The Public Ledger uses local campaign finance data and related public records as a base to build out a year-round backgrounding tool for reporters. It puts recent campaign finance data into a historical context, showing timing and changes in behavior and relationships from the donors’ point of view. The tool will also offer a public-facing view into the data.

The goal is to bring more transparency to where and how influence is being exerted behind the scenes. The tool is also designed to show journalists a more effective way to cover money in politics at the local level, where the government is the smallest and most direct.

“As an industry, our news coverage related to campaign finance data puts too much emphasis on the total dollars raised,” Brown said. “We need to be looking more closely at what the giving can tell us about relationships and power structures, particularly at the local level, where it works differently than it does at the national or state level.”

The work on The Public Ledger is also helping to establish a set of best practices for accessing local campaign finance data – which is hard to get.

“Local campaign finance data isn’t tracked as closely as it is on the state and national levels because in many – if not most – places outside of major metro areas, that data is still filed on paper,” Brown said. “Trying to make it useful is too costly for local news organizations – even though they know it can be a valuable reporting tool. I hope to help show it can be done and is worth the effort.”

Brown’s perspective is rooted in the experience she gained working as a local government and investigative reporter at publications of all sizes in widely disparate communities in the first half of her career. That approach has since been more fully informed by lessons learned designing and leading projects intended to help keep the lights on in local newsrooms.

The pilot project for The Public Ledger is focused on Pennsylvania’s second largest county, Allegheny, which is home to the city of Pittsburgh – Brown’s hometown.