The New Landscape for Local News
If you are going to be scooped on your own story, it’s likely best when a friend does it.
There is so much happening of grisly consequence these days — from the health, economic and civic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the absolutely horrendous response thereto by so many of our leaders on every level; to what has quickly shaped up to the largest public corruption scheme in Ohio history; to the quiet federal invasion of our city; to the ongoing crises in city administration; to the sense of possibility that exists in this moment of racial recalibration — we might be forgiven for failing to report on a couple of matters right in our backyard.
The first of these neighborhood items is captured in this piece by Jay Miller, longtime Crain’s reporter, and one of a dwindling core of Cleveland journalists possessed of institutional memory. The local daily newspaper, the Plain Dealer, died unceremoniously a few months ago, intentionally deprived by its absentee owner over several years of the resources it needed to sustain and reinvent itself. For the moment, its shell is being inhabited by cleveland.com, a digital news site that currently uses the PD nameplate to imply a false continuity with a bygone era. [It’s reminiscent of when the Modell Browns slunk off to Baltimore; the NFL team’s records and colors stayed behind, but the replacement squad that arrived a few years later still bears no resemblance to the original.]
The media landscape has been changing rapidly all over the globe for the past quarter century, a development that shows no sign of abating. But even as so-called legacy newspapers gasp, shrivel, and vanish, the human and community need for local news and information about our increasingly complex, digitized, discontinuous, and amazing world, is, if anything, only heightened. Of the seemingly dwindling number of truths that remain undiminished, one is this: nature abhors a vacuum.
And so, as Miller reports, a “local news ecosystem” is taking root in Northeast Ohio. One of the earliest manifestations was the reconstitution of an association of disparate community publications — some old, some new, some ethnic, some territorial, etc. The reborn organization, to which Miller devotes some appreciative space, is the Neighborhood and Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland. Indefatigable media person Rich Weiss, who, in addition to editing a monthly print publication devoted to Cleveland’s Tremont area, also founded and directs the Neighborhood Media Foundation, has been the driving force behind the newly energized NCMA-CLE.
Member publications include the Cleveland Street Chronicle, Collinwood Observer, East Side Daily News, Erie Chinese Journal, Euclid Observer, Heights Observer, La Mega Nota, Plain Press, Profile News Ohio, The Neighborhood News, The Real Deal Press, The Tremonster, Ward Seven Observer, and West Park Times.
New officers elected at the group’s June 25 meeting include The Real Deal Press publisher R. T. Andrews as president, Rich Weiss [The Tremonster publisher] as vice president, Jessie Schoonover [West Park Times editor-in-chief] as treasurer, Ellen Psenica [former Neighborhood News publisher] as secretary, and Ulysses Glen [East Side Daily News publisher] as parliamentarian.
“Local news engages citizens, improves public decision-making and makes political and civic leaders accountable to their communities.”
— a study commissioned by area foundations last year
Miller’s article notes that “news deserts” — communities where information about local government and other matters is hard to come by — is not just an area phenomenon. In fact, as profiteers have swooped in and gobbled up legacy publishers’ assets, only to shrink the products and decimate the newsrooms, many foundations and other philanthropies have become alarmed, in part because of research that shows local governments tend to become less scrupulous as watchdog journalism decreases.
A study commissioned by the Cleveland and Knight foundations last year [I was among those interviewed] concluded in part, Miller writes, that “local news engages citizens, improves public decision-making and makes political and civic leaders accountable to their communities. It also makes contributions to public health and political participation.”
In December, those foundations, along with the George Gund Foundation, the Akron Community Foundation, and the Center for Community Solutions, announced more than $110,000 in journalism grants to address community information needs in Akron and Cleveland.
While The Real Deal Press has not sought such funding, we are excited about several major recent steps to increase our capacity to keep readers informed, including collaborating with several journalistic partners, among them Eye on Ohio, the Ohio Capital Journal, and Your Voice Ohio Media Collaborative. And significantly, the long-promised and long-delayed rollout of our 2.0 website will occur by this Labor Day, just about a month before early voting begins.