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Cleveland Foundation to help launch a community-led nonprofit newsroom in 2022

Northeast Ohio collaborative journalism gathering in October 2019 at the MidTown Tech Hive, where participants created diagrams of their information needs. [The Cleveland Foundation]
Northeast ohio collaborative journalism gathering members holding up signs.

A new nonprofit newsroom centered on community-led issues is slated to launch in 2022. The Ohio Local News Initiative will eventually add similar newsrooms throughout the state.

The Cleveland Foundation is funding the effort, in collaboration with other Northeast Ohio-based organizations and the American Journalism Project, a local news venture philanthropy.

With the launch of the website LocalNewsForOhio.org on Tuesday, the search for the newsroom’s CEO and Editor-In-Chief role begins. Once those two positions are filled, they will hire as many as 23 reporters and other staff, operating independently of their funders, according to Michael Ouimette, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Startups at the American Journalism Project. 

“We're really excited to take applications from folks who haven't traditionally seen themselves as applying for journalism roles, and we think that's going to be a real asset for this organization,” Ouimette said.

The newsroom will use a "community-reporting model," hiring and training Cleveland locals to report for the newsroom and to reach out to community members to find out what issues and topics they want covered.

The genesis of the project started four years ago, when the Cleveland Foundation started looking into the region’s “information needs,” according to Dale Anglin, the organization’s Vice President for Program.

What the foundation found was “a clear sense when you talk to certain parts of the community that they never saw themselves in some traditional media,” according to Anglin.

“When you don't have this type of information where everybody can see themselves, other things happen that aren’t good,” she said. “There's not enough civic engagement. There's not enough voting. There's not enough holding different stakeholders, especially government, accountable. There's just less involvement in the civic culture of our region.”

In the American Journalism Project, the Cleveland Foundation found a partner that could help add to the “journalistic ecosystem,” supplementing the work of traditional media outlets, Anglin said, including Ideastream Public Media and Cleveland.com and smaller, local newspapers.

“If we remember, going way back, a more robust ecosystem in general, there used to be many more places where you could write, see yourselves,” Anglin said. “We want to almost reinvent that a little bit. It's, ‘Can we add to the ecosystem?’”

The American Journalism Project (AJP) has supported more than 20 community-based newsrooms across the country. As part of the effort in Cleveland, AJP had conversations with 130 residents and found many don’t feel they have access to information that is relevant to their daily lives. 

“It's a really important founding value of this project, that to do this work authentically and organically, the newsroom has to look like the communities it serves,” AJP's Ouimette said. “And obviously, Cleveland, you know, being nearly majority Black means that making sure that we have representation among that community in the newsroom is going to be essential.”

The newsroom will work closely with the Cleveland Documenters, which has been training locals to live Tweet public meetings including city council meetings. The organizations involved in launching the new newsroom get “a lot of inspiration from the great work and success of the Cleveland Documenters program,” according to Ouimette.

“One way to understand this initiative might be a really strong partnership with that group [Cleveland Documenters] that adds budget and capacity to do more of what they've already shown they can do so well over the last year. Also, add a team of beat reporters that can be in really close partnership with those community members, so that they can track down angles and stories that might have been raised through the Documenters' work,” Ouimette said.

The newsroom will partner with WOVU 95.9 FM “Our Voices United” in creating news content for radio. It will also partner with the Cleveland Observor and members of the Neighborhood and Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland (NCMA).

The Cleveland Foundation along with other nonprofits including the 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 the American Journalism Project raised $5.8 million for the project, which will fund two years of operations.