A coalition of philanthropy announced plans Tuesday to launch a nonprofit newsroom that will provide coverage of Cleveland, kicking off an effort to help fill the void left by shrinking news organizations in Ohio.
The donors say theirs will be one of the largest local nonprofit news startups in the country. The American Journalism Project, one of the funding, has launched three other non-profit newsroom startups and supported 26 others across the country.
A broader effort, called the Ohio Local News Initiative, is set to establish a network of nonprofit newsrooms across the state that will share a back-office infrastructure, with each community having access to local needs. There will be a newsroom, said CEO of Sarabeth Burman. American Journalism Project.
To date, $5.8 million has been raised for the Cleveland Newsroom from seven donors. In addition to the journalism project, donors include journalism funds the Knight Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation, which have assets of $2.8 billion. Burman says the journalism project is in talks to expand the initiative to other parts of the state and that further donations are expected to flow.
The Cleveland newsroom is expected to employ 25 employees by the middle of 2022. The donors said it would produce “original, in-depth, non-partisan reporting” that would be free to access digitally and through various content partnerships. The newsroom will raise revenue from those partnerships, subscriptions, events, and other sources, but philanthropy will continue to play a major role for years to come.
The donors described their initiative as “the culmination of years of work by local community leaders to identify and determine the information gaps left by the dwindling volume of original reporting in Northeast Ohio.”
Dale Anglin, vice president of programs at the Cleveland Foundation, says the foundation has decided to fund the Cleveland Newsroom to strengthen building democracy in the community.
“We stand ready to support them,” Anglin said.
The foundation contacted the American Journalism Project about 18 months ago and asked it to gather data on how city residents generally receive news and information. Burman said the organization reviewed the city’s local news landscape, ran focus groups and conducted surveys.
It saw the same trend across the country: The news staff of traditional metro news organizations have been decimated by advertising losses, with many residents no longer knowing enough about their communities to make the decisions they need to make in their lives. Berman said residents need more information about, for example, how to access city services, among other things.
In a trend repeated across the country, newspapers in Cleveland and elsewhere in Ohio have fired several journalists over the past decade. A 2019 estimate from research group Policy Matters Ohio showed that the number of newspaper journalists in Ohio had declined by 43% between 2012 and 2018. This includes cuts to Cleveland’s only daily newspaper, the Plain Dealer. The Plain Dealer fired some of its remaining employees last year or transferred them to the non-federal Cleveland.com, which continues to publish a daily that uses the newspaper’s masthead.
Anoop Kumar, director of the journalism program at Cleveland State University, says other initiatives are trying to fill the gap. One is the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, an effort of approximately 20 Northeast Ohio news outlets that dedicate themselves to solutions-based reporting. The Knight Foundation is supporting that partner, as well as the DOCUMENT program, started by the City Bureau in Chicago, through which citizens are trained by journalists and cover local government meetings.
Donors said the upcoming newsroom in Cleveland will work in conjunction with the Documenters Program, which is active in the city.
“The goal is to create a newsroom that not only saves local news, but to reimagine how local news is actually made,” Burman said. “In addition to collaborating with the Documenters program, their goal is to really, from the outset, be anchored in working with residents to set the editorial agenda.”
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