The local media landscape of Northeast Ohio reflects the alarming trends faced by newsrooms across the country. With financial and journalistic resources continuing to shrink, the gap between news organizations in Northeast Ohio and the diverse needs of consumers continues to widen, often at the unfortunate expense of residents seeking basic information to navigate daily life.
There is an opportunity for innovation in our local news and information ecosystem, and for the local philanthropic community to help support more collaborative news ecosystems. Here are the initiatives the foundation has undertaken so far.
- Knight Foundation Research Partnership: In the field of communications, it’s often said that whatever your top issue is, your second issue should be media if you hope to make an impact. In late April, we collaborated with the Knight Foundation to debut original research on the local news and information ecosystem in Northeast Ohio. Our analysis of the local news and information ecosystems in Cleveland and Akron assessed local information needs, gaps in access and infrastructure, and assets that the Knight Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, and our partners might leverage toward building collaborative solutions. This analysis was rooted in the understanding that both foundations – Cleveland and Knight – are already making considerable investments in community well being that address a wide variety of local issues, and that a stronger local news and information is critical to making those efforts effective.
- City Bureau, Documenters.org & Cleveland Documenters: Chicago-based City Bureau brings journalists and communities together in a collaborative spirit to produce media that is impactful, equitable and responsive to the public. In December, City Bureau co-founders Andrea Hart and Darryl Holliday presented to a packed house at The City Club of Cleveland, in addition to hosting public newsroom events in Cleveland and Akron to vet next steps with local journalists and community members. The pair were in Northeast Ohio to debut the City Scrapers pilot we brought to the area in partnership with Akron Community Foundation. Using tools and technologies developed for Documenters.org, the City Bureau team compiled a detailed list of all governmental bodies that host public meetings in Cleveland and Akron (city governments) as well as Cuyahoga and Summit (county governments). The team gathered more than 150 city- and county-level government bodies that host recurring meetings that are open to the public. These meetings are where citizens can directly interface with elected officials about their needs and concerns, often before any vote is taken. By standardizing and sharing meeting locations, dates, times and official records for each of those agencies through its free, easy-to-browse website – Documenters.org – City Bureau makes it easier than ever to monitor and analyze local decisions, trace community impact and spark policy discussions.
- In May 2020, Neighborhood Connections announced the launch of a one-year pilot of Cleveland Documenters, in partnership with City Bureau and with support from the Cleveland Foundation and the Visible Voice Charitable Fund of the Cleveland Foundation. Neighborhood Connections will recruit, train and pay Greater Clevelanders to document official committee meetings of the Cuyahoga County and City of Cleveland governments and contribute to a communal pool of public knowledge. Residents will sign up to be trained and paid $16/hour to document these meetings and publish content on Documenters.org. The Documenters program is expected to be up and running later this year when social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 are worked out.
- Community Information Needs Collaborative: In October, we partnered with Akron Community Foundation, The Center for Community Solutions, The George Gund Foundation and the Knight Foundation to issue a RFP to provide up to $110,000 for several microgrants to journalist and resident media-maker projects in Akron and Cleveland. Stemming from our research with the Knight Foundation, a pair of workshop convenings, and our exploration of best practices in other communities, our goal was to incentivize collaborative local journalism projects that address community information needs and support new and innovative partnerships among legacy, start-up and citizen journalists in Northeast Ohio. The selected projects include more than 20 legacy outlets, hyper-local publications and resident media makers tackling basic information needs such as infant mortality, witness protection and rights, literacy, eviction, safety and food insecurity. Projects include:
- Black maternal health & infant mortality
This project will use restorative journalism by empowering women in Cleveland to tell their first-person narrative via a number of channels, including written stories, radio and photography. Visit project site
- Witness protection and rights
This collaboration will help close a gap in understanding about the safety and rights of those who witness crime, while pushing for solutions that could promote a safer system in Cleveland. Visit project site
- Basic information needs in Woodhill Estates
This project will involve and inform residents of the 80-year-old public housing development on Cleveland’s East Side around pending changes as a result of a proposal to rebuild the estates. Visit project site
This collaborative will explore how media partners and other community organizations can come together to build a culture of reading at Charles Dickens Elementary School in Cleveland’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in order to address the K-3 literacy rate. Visit project site
- Food insecurity
With 59 percent of Cleveland residents living in food deserts, this project will provide a platform for residents in the MidTown, Glenville and Kinsman neighborhoods to tell their stories through a number of different channels. It will strive to better connect residents to food and other key resources around health and well-being. Visit project site
This collaborative will tackle the issue of eviction and tenant rights in Akron and Cleveland across a number of communication platforms from the perspective of both tenants and landlords, ultimately producing a tenant’s guide in both English and Spanish.
- Infant mortality
This project will address the issue of infant mortality in Akron and Cleveland in a two-pronged approach: 1) educating traditional media audiences about how bias and racism play into the treatment of women of color; and 2) use storytelling across a number of social platforms to reach and inform the most at-risk residents of these two communities.
- Basic information needs in Buckeye-Shaker Square
By empowering the residents of the Buckeye-Shaker Square neighborhood via a central news hub and first-person storytelling, this collaborative aims to arm residents with the information necessary to advocate for their own well-being.
- Safety and representation
This restorative journalism project will engage the residents of the Goodyear Heights neighborhood in Akron to elevate an unheard community perspective in regard to the importance of safety and representation at Reservoir Park Pool and access more generally to recreation opportunities
- FreshWater Cleveland: As part of FreshWater’s “On the Ground” reporting series, we supported a community correspondent program for the Fairfax neighborhood, designed to lift up local voices by equipping, training and mentoring residents to become community storytellers. Neighborhood leaders identified four residents to participate in the pilot program, led by resident Charlotte Morgan. After completing their classroom instruction and meeting their mentors, the correspondents have begun producing stories:
- Eye on Ohio: The mission of Eye on Ohio is to promote the public good by pursuing in-depth, underreported and high-impact journalism which exposes injustice and explores its consequences. Eye on Ohio reporting investigates the truth, holds those in power accountable, and seeks solutions. Last year, Eye on Ohio reported 13 in-depth public service stories that were picked up across the state. The Cleveland Foundation has provided funding for the following in-depth original stories over the past six months via freelance journalists based in Northeast Ohio:
- Down But Not Out in East Cleveland
- Hidden Charges: What’s on Your Electric Bill?
- Why Did Utility Bills Go Up As Electricity Prices Went Down?
- How Have Deregulation and Extra Fees Affected Your Energy Bill?
- A quarter of Cuyahoga County homes have no internet access — why that matters and how it’s changing
- WOVU: WOVU 95.9 FM-LP is a community radio station that is an enterprise of Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc., the nonprofit community development corporation serving Cleveland’s Central and Kinsman neighborhoods. WOVU provides a vehicle to connect people to valuable information and resources through on-air broadcasting and associated social media platforms. WOVU also addresses the issues and concerns of the community while showcasing local talent and positive urban music that are not typically mainstream. The station operates with the motto that people support what they help create, and WOVU provides many exciting and creative ways to engage, involve, and uplift the community. The Cleveland Foundation provided funding to establish this community radio station.