ideastream Reporter Roundtable: Some Big Stories Of 2016

Cleveland's 4th St. during the Republican National Convention in July. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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As 2016 comes to a close, it's a good time to look back on the year that was, and look forward to the year that will be.  With this in mind, ideastream's Tony Ganzer spoke with ideastream reporters Mark Urycki, Nick Castele, Elizabeth Miller, David C. Barnett, and Michelle Faust.

Even though politics played such a big part in 2016, the conversation started with a look to coverage marking 50 years since the Hough Riots, or Rebellion.

MARK URYCKI: “On Hough the thing I loved about that was hearing some vintage tape, some of which had never been broadcast before, that we managed to dig out of archives.  A combination of that—those people from 1966—as well as some wonderful interviews that were done this year.  It was a great collaborative event among the reporters here—like I was able to use some tape that Nick did in interviews, and Darrielle Snipes also gave me, of people today who were in Hough at the time, and remembering things.  And also a lot of outreach people did, David C. Barnett was out in the community.  And Nick, you brought some civil rights testimony that was done here in…before the riots?”

NICK CASTELE: “Right, this was a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  It was in the Hough neighborhood in April of 1966, and that really stood out to me to hear the tape of that testimony, to hear the tape from that testimony, to hear people who lived in that neighborhood at the time getting up to microphones and talking about what it was like to go to segregated schools, and what it was like to have difficulty finding a job, or to have encounters with police. It brought life of 50 years ago right to the present now, and we got to hear people just describing their circumstances and that really stuck with me.”

GANZER: “And that’s something you focused on too, David C. Barnett, kind of bringing this era to life…”

DAVID C. BARNETT: “That’s what I like so much. Mark and I are the ones here who lived through this era, so we knew some of these voices, and so it was great for me to go back and talk to people who went through their own particular circumstances.  And my favorite thing coming from this was the whole issue that the famous former nightclub Leo’s Casino, which was a block or two away from the actual riots, there was a Supremes show going on when the riots broke out, and the National Guard’s person had to come knock on the door and say ‘you can’t have this show going on, there’s a riot going on, didn’t you know that.’ And it was black and white mixing at the same time, so it goes counter to the narrative that there was all this animosity going on, there was some people getting together, too.”

GANZER: “And it was a journey, too, even to track down that story.”

BARNETT: “Oh, that took forever to do, but we finally found the people.”

GANZER: “Elizabeth Miller, you focused on the present-day and how the story of Hough is being told in the schools.  What did you take away from your reporting on this?”

ELIZABETH MILLER: “I think the real surprise I found was the 13-year-old, Jane Nilson.  She showed up at the Hough panel that ideastream hosted, and asked a really good question, and she sought this all out herself.  So I’m sure that students even outside of Hough, outside of Downtown Cleveland, are looking into this story, because it’s an interesting story, and it is one that maybe one that not everyone knows about.  And it was really interesting to find out that there is a whole course that includes Hough, that teachers can pick up and use.”

GANZER: “I was kind of interested—the reason that I started with Hough—is because 50 years since the Hough Rebellion, or riots, coincided with the Republican National Convention, and I thought that was really interesting, did anyone know about that?”

URYCKI: “I was kind of waiting during the RNC for somebody to mention this, to mention these issues, and it never did come up.”

GANZER: “Yeah, it didn’t.  But Hough, Nick, as people you talked to, people I talked to, it’s not necessarily defined by the riots, that there is a movement to try and take that neighborhood somewhere else.”

CASTELE: “Yeah, the neighborhood wasn’t frozen in time in 1966.  There were efforts from 1967 onward to bring new investment into the neighborhood, to build new homes.  So the neighborhood has seen a lot of different changes over the years, it’s taken on many different forms, and as you found talking with people in Hough there’s people who want to look to the future and not the past.”

GANZER: “Sticking with you Nick, even though I didn’t start with politics we have to talk about it, we really do, because this year was so much defined by that.  You followed a lot of the campaigns, but one of my favorite moments, if I might take host privilege here, is when you went to Cadiz, Ohio and spoke to Trump supporters.  We have a clip:”

CLIP: “I know Trump’s going to make people work, instead of these people that don’t work every day, and sit on their butt, and get welfare and free insurance, and eat good and all that stuff, when us working people are struggling every single day.”

GANZER: “Can you tell us more about that trip, and that reporting?”

CASTELE: “Sure, well this person I spoke with she was on a porch at a house in Cadiz, she was with her neighbor and some of her children as well.  I was driving around the town, it was getting dark, a little stormy out, so I was looking for where is a place where I could go and find people on their porch where I can approach them and say ‘hey, do you want to talk about politics with me?’ And as I’m walking past this house there’s a woman sitting on a porch swing and she kind of called out to me and said, ‘Hey what are you doing?’ So of course, here I am walking with headphones and a giant microphone.  I explained what I was doing and just immediately she starts engaging with me, and she said, ‘I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but I’m sure not happy about Hillary Clinton.’ And that sort of was the beginning of our conversation.  And this woman who you just played, she was someone else who was on the porch, who said her husband works in the coal mining industry, and she was just not very happy with the way things were going, and she saw Donald Trump as a person who could be on her side.”

GANZER: “Ohio’s always a focus of politics, obviously, but this year because of the RNC it seemed to be something different, something special maybe. David C. Barnett, being here for so long in this region, can you contrast the normal political circus to what we experienced this year with the RNC?”

BARNETT: “I think what really struck me, and what probably struck a lot of us was there was as a buildup to this convention. And we were as reporters given protective gear, protective ways of protecting our eyes and that sort of thing. And the thought was, uh oh, what are we in for? And I think on that first day, we were all saying, okay, here I go. We got up from our desks, we walked out into the streets, and we were thinking, what are we walking into? And it turned out, we were walking into a perfectly civil city where everyone respected each other. The cops got high fives from protesters. The cops were on their bikes and they carefully negotiated the protests and the demonstrations. And I just felt like this is, this was a great reflection of Cleveland, and this is the Cleveland that I know, and these are the people I know. And I thought it was great.”

GANZER: “Michelle Faust.”

FAUST: “Well, moving up to the week of the RNC, in other places in the country, a lot of other things were going on. This is why we had the protective gear. Because we—the week the RNC, Philando Castile was killed, and that was on Facebook Live. There was another man who was killed in Louisiana. There were protests, and some of got somewhat out of hand. Dallas happened, in that there was a Black Lives Matter protest that—a rogue person went and started shooting at police officers and people in a crowd. So with all of that, and knowing that we were coming into a political season, and no one knew who was going to be here to protest, or how anyone was going to be reacting, there was some tension and there was some concern. I think there were a lot of people in the community who were concerned. There were people who were coming in to protest who were concerned. And there was a lot of security, so the city brought in police officers from all over the country, I almost want to say the world because it was just really so much—such a large police presence. And I think, especially as the week went on, like you were saying, people high-fiving the police, it started out with some tension and some people concerned about what’s going to happen. And people just relaxed into it, and everyone was very friendly and happy to see one another.”

CASTELE: “Yeah, I think it bears remembering just how much tension and anxiety there was in this political season. And you saw it in the preparations for the RNC. You had the administrative judge for the city of Cleveland municipal court saying they were getting ready to process as many as a thousand arrested people every single day of the convention. They didn’t know what to expect, but they wanted to be ready for a huge influx of people, if indeed that’s what happened. And as it turns out, that was not what happened. They had maybe about a score of people arrested the whole week. So there was a big difference between our expectations and our reality, but our expectations came out of, I think, just sort of the anxiety that was pervading this whole political season.”

URYCKI: “You know, but one thing that we forget about is just how much this city got revitalized in preparing for this. Not just above ground, with the new Public Square, but also below ground, with fiber optic cable put everywhere. There were hotels popping up, the Hilton, everybody, the Drury hotel at the old board of ed. Beautiful new luxurious hotels, just, and they all had that target date, right, for July what was it, the 24th or so, that they needed to be open for the RNC. And it just turned around the country and we put on, I think, such a great show that people went home thinking, wow, I never knew Cleveland was this lovely.”

GANZER: “These were just a couple of the stories that we faced this year, but there were many important ones. I want to open it up to all of you, if you want to mention something maybe listeners had forgotten or should look up again. We’ll start, Mark, what was something that stuck out form 2016?”

URYCKI: “I don’t think you can overlook the Cavs championship and also the Cleveland Indians going—getting into the World Series. The championship, you know, we like to brush that off as that’s only sports, but it turned this city around. And even some of the politicians coming in, I think Joe Biden may have said it, and possibly Hillary as well, talked about the, we’ve been here before but there’s a definitely a pep in the step of Clevelanders right now that they hadn’t seen before. People were just so proud and happy about that sports team doing that, and with this crazy come-from-behind victory, massive parade. And I think just Clevelanders, all Clevelanders, not even sports fans, felt better.”

GANZER: “Yeah. And there’s always next year for the Browns. Nick, what’s a story?”

CASTELE: “Well, as our political guy, I keep thinking about all of the promises that the Trump campaign made in its campaign visits to Ohio. He was able to get enough people in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest to vote for him, to deliver him the Electoral College and the presidency. So I’m interested to see how does this administration follow through on its economic promises to the Midwest, follow through on promises in regards to trade and steel and coal mining. That’s something I’ll be watching next year.”

GANZER: “Michelle Faust.”

FAUST: “Just in general, looking at, when we’re talking about politics, you know, I did stories about the more than 150 ballot issues that dealt with funding for schools. And how just about last week, [State Rep. Andrew] Brenner was talking about let’s change the way that we fund our schools so we don’t have to do so many of these local issues to pay for the schools. And everything that I touch when it comes to my reporting, somebody mentions, we would have better schools, things would be easier if we had a better funding model. And the other thing is, most of the challenges that kids are facing have to do with poverty.”

GANZER: “David C. Barnett.”

BARNETT: “One of my favorite interviews this past year was with J.D. Vance, who was all over the media in terms of being the guy who understood the so-called angry white man person. But he was much deeper than that. His book, Hillbilly Elegy, is just so fantastic. And when we were talking, he invited me to come down to Middletown when he’s there, and we’ll just walk through the town and talk about where it’s going. And so I really look forward to doing that this year.”

GANZER: “Elizabeth Miller.”

MILLER: “Yeah, something I focused on a little bit here before Great Lakes Today was the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. And so I’m interested to see as Mike O’Malley steps into that role next year, what that’s going to look like. In addition, real estate in the city. There were some big buys this year, so I’m excited to see what will pop up in Cleveland, what won’t pop up in Cleveland, and everything like that.”

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