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.

City Bureau at City Club

City Bureau co-founders Andrea Hart (center) and Darryl Holliday (right) in conversation with Lila Mills of Neighborhood Connections (left) at The City Club of Cleveland on December 3, 2019. Photo credit: Michaelangelo’s Photography

  • 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: 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. 

  • 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.

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.

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.

Literacy

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.

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.

Eviction

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. The correspondents recently completed their classroom instruction and met their mentors, who will help the correspondents shape and narrow their story’s focus.

  • 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 to produce at least five in-depth original stories this year via freelance journalists based in Northeast Ohio.