• Questions come from the community

  • You vote for your favorites

  • WBEZ investigates, posting updates in real time

  • Followers help shape the investigation

  • We discover the answers together!

Got a question about Chicago, the region or the people who live here? Anything you’ve always wondered about, found peculiar or downright confusing? Ask questions, vote, discover answers. It’s your curiosity, it’s WBEZ’s Curious City series.

WBEZ’s Curious City series is an ongoing news experiment at WBEZ, online at wbez.org and on the radio dial around Chicago at 91.5 FM. Its mission is to include the public in editorial decision-making, make journalism more transparent and strengthen multimedia coverage about Chicago, the surrounding region and its people (past or present).

All Curious City stories originate with questions submitted by the public. WBEZ producers and editors regularly sift through those questions and work with reporters, radio hosts, videographers, photographers, bloggers, comic artists and even musicians to find the best answers. We place questions into voting rounds, so the public can make the final decision about what to investigate!

Beyond that, the curious citizens who submit questions regularly help track down answers. Some have helped conduct interviews, others have supplied important photos or documents and many have appeared live on WBEZ 91.5 FM!

There are lots of ways to contribute to our stories beyond asking questions. You can follow WBEZ’s Curious City series on Facebook, Twitter, WBEZ’s website and subscribe to our podcast. Comments, leads and insights from curious people just like you have made all the difference in our radio, video and web-based stories.



How do you collect questions?

We collect questions through this website (top of the page!), through messages left at our toll-free number (1-888-789-7752), or when we’re pounding the pavement in the city and surrounding area.

Are there questions you do not accept?

All questions asked make it to the question archive unless they don’t meet the website’s guidelines for decorum, fairness or obvious conflicts of interest. We do not investigate questions about WBEZ or posed by staff at WBEZ or its parent organization, Chicago Public Media.

How do you pick the questions for voting rounds?

WBEZ producers and editors identify questions that have potential to be answered by staff, freelancers, or volunteers. Often, Curious City staff will look for a theme (e.g., “history”) and fill the voting round with questions related to the theme. Editors and producers also consider regional diversity, tone, or timeliness. Sometimes we will deliberately create voting rounds with no obvious theme, so we can gauge the public’s interest in novel topics.

What happens if my question is in a voting round?

Well first off, congratulations! We typically keep votes open for anywhere from a week to two weeks, a range that allows us to juggle schedules for reporters, producers and show hosts. We notify question submitters of how long the round will last so they can ask friends, family and social networks for their support.

If your question does win a vote you’re in for double congratulations! Curious City staff will discuss options of how you might participate in the investigation, depending on your interest and schedule, as well as the schedule of reporters or producers. The public at large will also be able to follow the investigation as it unfolds via our Tumblr, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Website.

What happens if my question is in a voting round and doesn’t win? Will it still get answered?

There is hope for your question! WBEZ editors and producers regularly scan the question archive. Often, they’ll investigate questions that never made to a voting round. Or, they’ll find that a question has already been answered in some way — either through a previous Curious City investigation or a WBEZ radio story, show segment, interview or Web story. There’s another way your question may be answered: The public weighs in! Anyone can comment on questions. If you know the answer to someone else’s question or even have leads or points others should consider, don’t be shy! Let them know the information you have and whenever possible, cite your sources.

Why do you change the wording of some questions when they enter a voting round?

Curious City staff edit some questions for clarity and brevity. Editors and producers attempt to recast otherwise relevant or provocative questions that mischaracterize small details or remain too broad. The goal is to indicate what lines of investigation WBEZ is likely to pursue, so the public can clearly understand the choices and vote deliberately.

The Team:

Jennbrandel Jennifer Brandel: Founder + Senior Producer

Jennifer is air traffic controller for all things curious. She produces the series (think massive amounts of emailing, listening, diagram-making, meetings) and occasionally sees daylight while reporting for it, too. Prior to founding the Curious City series, Jennifer reported for WBEZ’s newsdesk and for national radio shows including All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend America, Latino USA and Interfaith Voices and has collected a few Associated Press awards for that work. She’s served as an assistant producer for Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, a blogger for the Transom website and the talent for pieces aired on WireTap, Love + Radio and How To Do Everything. Jennifer has managed radio conferences and produced broadcasts for The Third Coast International Audio Festival. Her photos have appeared in The New York Times online and Vice magazine and she dabbles in music video-making, petting dogs and pitching for the WBEZ 16-inch softball team.

Shawnallee Shawn Allee: Editor

Shawn edits whatever the minds of Curious City series’ producers, reporters and other contributors might dream up. His favorite thing to say is: “Follow your heart, then get an edit.” His own radio work landed him on NPR’s On The Media, All Things Considered, This American Life, Marketplace and other public radio outlets. His investigations earned him top honors from the Illinois Associated Press, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and the Radio Television Digital News Association. He really digs taking photographs, especially of his cats, his prized LEGO robots, his Chicago neighborhood and his native Iowa.

Loganjaffe Logan Jaffe: Multimedia producer

Logan shoots and produces photo, video, interactive and Web content for Curious City stories. Somewhat of a multimedia ninja, she’s previously worked as a photojournalist, reporter and Web/graphic designer, but couldn’t pick just one. Her first independent documentary, The Road to Somewhere Else (Highway 127 & The World’s Longest Yard Sale) appeared in Digital Americana’s Fall 2013 issue. She’s been a finalist in KCRW’s 24-hour radio race and in the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s ShortDocs challenge. A Miami native, Logan graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in photojournalism and spends her free time hunting for home movies, home-recorded tape cassettes and other obsolete, lost media to reassemble.

Site Credits:

Original interactive production and coding by Zeega.

Original graphic design and logo by Plural.

Site redevelopment by ThoughtWorks.

The Curious City series is produced by Jennifer Brandel and brought to you by WBEZ and Localore, a national initiative produced by AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated and with financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Wyncote Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Knight Foundation.

The Curious City series is part of AIR’s Localore initiative, a national effort to develop journalistic and technical ingenuity and extend public media service to more Americans.

Special Thanks:

This project would not be possible without the generous, invaluable help and support of many individuals and organizations. Extra special thanks go to: Torey Malatia, Daniel Ash, Sally Eisele, Matthew Green, Breeze Richardson, Alison Scholly, Wendy Turner, Vanessa Harris, Jill Shepherd, Beth Maggard, Bea Bosco, Jennifer Choi, Justin Kaufmann, Chris Bentley, Steve Edwards, Thales Exoo, Adam Yoffe, Sarah Lu, Tim Akimoff, Joe DeCeault, Adam Peindl, Cate Cahan, Aurora Aguilar, Shannon Heffernan, Katie Mingle, Heidi Goldfein, Sue Schardt, Noland Walker, Jessica Clark, Lo Audley, Lindsey Wagner, James Burns, Kara Oehler, Jesse Shapins, Jeremiah Chiu, Renata Graw, Julie Shapiro, Aaron Wickenden, John Bracken, Chris Barr, Ji Wang, Ariel Flaggs, Bill Kimmel, Ed Thome, Rebecca Lau, Alberto Saavedra, Landon Medlock and Lesley Dennison.