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.
- American Journalism Project/Signal Cleveland: On Nov. 9, 2021, a coalition of Cleveland-based organizations and the American Journalism Project (AJP) announced they were partnering to launch an independent, community-led, nonprofit newsroom serving Cleveland (Associated Press story). With an anticipated staff of 25 at launch, the new organization will be one of the largest local nonprofit news startups in the country. The coalition of philanthropies, which has raised over $5.8 million to date for the organization, includes the Cleveland Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Visible Voice Charitable Fund, The Center for Community Solutions, The Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, and AJP. Signal Cleveland officially launched in October 2022 under the direction of editor-in-chief Lila Mills. In December 2022, AJP announced the hiring of Rita McNeil Danish as the Signal Ohio CEO. Signal Akron was announced in 2023 and there are additional cities in the pipeline for 2024 and beyond.
- Environmental Justice Local Journalism Collaborative: In February 2021, we partnered with Black Environmental Leaders (BEL), The Center for Community Solutions and The George Gund Foundation to issue an open call for ideas to test, refine and/or build out an environmental justice reporting project in Greater Cleveland to elevate Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizations taking action to improve the health of our communities, our climate, our environment and our democracy. As we’ve seen all too clearly over the past year, COVID has laid bare the disproportionate impacts experienced by BIPOC communities, according to data from the CDC analyzed by the New York Times. Three winning collaborative projects received $10,000 each in microgrant support. The aim of this commitment is to continue the spirit of collaboration in our evolving information ecosystem. Projects include:
- Ask The Land Environmental Reporting Initiative
The collaborative will utilize two-way texting to give voice to underrepresented communities in shaping local news coverage. Through relationships with neighborhood-based organizations and other community partners, Ask The Land will recruit neighborhood residents to enroll in texting conversations, source environmental justice stories directly from these communities at the grassroots level, provide local news coverage about environmental issues for residents and stakeholders in these communities in an easily accessible way, and provide members of the community with a place to ask questions and seek support and advice about the environmental justice and equity issues that affect them.
- Farmers markets, nutrition assistance programs serve as oases in Cleveland's food deserts
- Bold plan emerges to improve east side’s lakefront access
- Local gardeners find inspiration and show off their green thumbs at GardenWalk Cleveland
- GardenWalk Cleveland invites you to stop and smell the flowers this weekend
- Forming an Emerald Necklace
The collaborative will produce a series of weekly short features over the course of 12 weeks that will culminate in a documentary highlighting the environmental struggles and resiliency of the Buckeye-Woodland and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods. These shorts will primarily feature work creating greenspaces of all sizes, addressing food apartheid, reducing invisible boundaries, as well as connecting with initiatives outside of the neighborhood that address environmental issues.
- Healing Spaces
The collaborative will utilize Cleveland Documenters to talk with community leaders who have activated vacant land in their neighborhoods and, by doing so, tended to their community’s need for beautiful spaces that feed the soul. This project will be done in three phases: a listening survey; reporting; and transformation. Cleveland Documenters will begin by surveying their neighbors, Neighbor Up members and other Cleveland residents about their environmental justice concerns. A team of Cleveland Documenters will then conduct video interviews with community gardeners talking about their work and its history, successes and challenges, and what the future holds. They will also take the learnings from the surveys and transform a vacant lot into a vibrant community space; they will share videos, talkbacks, and other communications from this space as well as others throughout the summer via publishing partner A Greater Buckeye and with media partner WOVU. The project will close with the showing of a short documentary in the fall.
- 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 2019, 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. In August, Lawrence Caswell was hired as the field coordinator, and helped lead a group of more than 80 participants in a session on how to become a Cleveland Documenter. The Documenters program became fully operational in November, handing out nearly 150 meeting assignments in its first three months, while providing a searchable database of more than 70 public agencies.
- Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Network Collaborative: The foundation helped Northeast Ohio secure $100,000 from Solutions Journalism Network for a local news collaborative. The group – which now includes more than 20 newsrooms across Cleveland and Akron –has been meeting regularly and has selected both a coordinator (former Plain Dealer reporter Sharon Broussard) and an editorial focus (domestic violence). The pandemic forced the collaborative to pivot its focus, and the group has focused on COVID-19 from a solutions-oriented lens on community recovery and resiliency efforts. To provide increased capacity for participating media, we have also funded a two-year Report for America position in 2020, which will provide a reporter who will work across Northeast Ohio newsrooms in service of the broader collaborative. This position is already paying dividends, as evidenced by the fact that a story on census completion during COVID-19 appeared across five different news outlets: FreshWater, ideastream, Scene, Cleveland.com and Euclid Observer. The Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative has also launched social media properties to keep the community informed of its work across the network.
- Reimagining Journalism Series @ The City Club: Starting in 2020, the foundation has sponsored a series of forums at The City Club of Cleveland about the changing face of journalism in our region:
- Local Journalism in Crisis: A conversation with NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik on the intersection of local journalism, free speech, an educated citizenry, and democracy.
- A Community Vision for Local News: A conversation with Karen Rundlet (director of journalism at Knight Foundation) and John Thornton (Texas Tribune founder, American Journalism Project co-founder) regarding their perspectives on the state of local journalism in America.
- New Kids on the Block in Greater Cleveland: A discussion with the leadership of four start-up efforts – Sharon Broussard (Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism), Ron Calhoun (The Cleveland Observer), Julian Khan (A Greater Buckeye) and Ken Schneck (The Buckeye Flame) – as they share their aspirations and contributions to Greater Cleveland’s changing media landscape.
- Community Information Needs Collaborative: In October 2019, 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. Visit project site
- The Witness Project explores why Cleveland’s 'streets don’t speak’
- Sound of Ideas: The Witness Project
- Questions about witnessing a crime? Send them to The Witness Project so we can build a guide
- The Witness Project Asks: What is snitching?
- What age were you when you learned about snitching?
- The Witness Project Asks: How did you learn about snitching?
- The Witness Project Asks: Snitching, does it have more than one meaning?
- The Witness Project Asks: What happens if you snitch?
- The Witness Project Asks: What happens if you are labeled a snitch?
- Special Interview with Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Jeff Follmer: The Witness Project
- The Witness Project: Black and Blue
- 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
- Councilman: Woodhill Must Be Redeveloped, With Or Without HUD Funding
- 'It's Always Fun Outside'
- Public Housing Residents Get More Federal Help Toward Self-Sufficiency
- Cleveland's Woodhill Homes Is Finalist For $35 Million Federal Grant
- HUD Passes Over Cleveland's Woodhill Homes For Public Housing Grant
- Woodhill Homes Rebuild Gets Lift From Tax Credits
- Do Mixed-Income Neighborhoods Benefit People? It's Complicated, Experts Say
- Inside the Bricks - Episode 1: On Front Street
- Inside The Bricks - Episode 2: Waking Up In History
- Sound of Ideas: Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes
- Inside the Bricks - Episode 3: How To Start
- Residents Discuss Health And Safety Related Topics On “Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes”
- Inside the Bricks - Episode 4: It's About Being Ready
- Inside the Bricks - Episode 5: Go Be Brave
- City Club Panel Discusses “Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes”
- Inside the Bricks - Episode 6: All We Need To Do Is Get Together
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
- Help on the way to third graders struggling to read at Cleveland elementary school
- Dickens Reads students wind up February book club sessions with a lyrical message
- Dickens Reads students get tablets for reading at home
- 3News morning reporters pop in for Read Across America Day at Dickens School
- Students get to meet book illustrator via an online chat
- 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.
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. Visit project site
- Facing Off with Eviction guide (PDF)
- Akron Has Highest Eviction Rate in Ohio
- What stories about eviction should we be telling? Calling All Readers
- Eviction Hearings Resume in Cleveland & Legal Aid is available
- The Lasting Impact of Cleveland's Redlined Neighborhood
- Need to Force a Landlord to Make Repairs? Escrow Works, Sometimes
- As Pandemic Moratoriums on Evictions End, Worries Start
- Ex-Offenders Face Challenges in Finding and Holding Onto Stable Housing
- 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. Visit project site
- Infant mortality prevention videos
- Ohio Infant Mortality Continues to Decline, Gains by Race Remain Uneven
- Uncovering Underlying Factors of Infant Mortality
- First Year Cleveland Launches New Support Network to Combat Infant Mortality
- Battling Infant Mortality: Akron Group Works to Help Black Babies Survive
- Study Sheds Light on How COVID-19 Affects Labor & Delivery
- Governor DeWine Discusses COVID-19 & Communities of Color / Infant Mortality
- Maternal Stress Is a Key Factor in Higher Black Infant Mortality
- Summit Health Officials Concerned about Jump in Sleep Related Infant Deaths
- Battling Infant Mortality: The Healthcare Disparities Black Mothers and Babies Face
- Informed Communities: Empowering Black Women on Their Healthcare During Pregnancy
- Informed Communities: Support in Grieving Infant Mortality
- COVID-19 Poses Additional Risk to Black Pregnant Women
- Informed Communities: How COVID-19 May Be Hurting Black Mothers and Infants
- Informed Communities: Stark County Program Helps Families At Risk for Infant Mortality
- Wave of Light Remembers Northeast Ohio Babies Lost Through Miscarriage and Infant Death
- 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.
- 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 of 2019, 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.
- 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.