Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Nov. 9, 2021, 2:54 p.m.
Business Models

Cleveland, Ohio, is getting its own nonprofit news outlet in the new year, and it may be one of the largest in the United States.

The newly formed Ohio Local News Initiative announced on Tuesday that the American Journalism Project has partnered with a group of community organizations and leaders in Ohio to launch a “network of independent, community-led, nonprofit newsrooms” across Ohio, starting in Cleveland, and has raised $5.8 million so far. The AJP will be the fiscal sponsor. The hiring of around 25 employees will take place in the first quarter of 2022, and the newsroom will be funded through a combination of philanthropy, content partnerships, subscriptions, and events.

The founding organizations (the Cleveland Foundation, Knight Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation, Visible Voice Charitable Fund, and Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation) got together with the AJP in 2020 to study information gaps in northeastern Ohio. Their findings inspired them to launch a news outlet to meet community needs:

People said they wanted information about how to navigate local school systems so their children could access full educational opportunities, or how to protect their children from violence and addiction.

Residents affected by the justice system said they don’t have a trusted source for information about job opportunities, changing regulations that affect their livelihoods, or basic information about what to expect in court. They said most stories they see about people who are formerly incarcerated are negative, instead of positive examples that might show the way for returning citizens. Meanwhile, people working in the justice system, including corrections officers and judges, said they rarely see nuanced coverage of their perspectives.

Black and Latinx residents told us they wanted more holistic coverage of their communities, that acknowledges the full diversity within their communities, and tells the full spectrum of stories about the neighborhoods they live in. Many told us they feel there is disproportionate focus on the sensational aspects of crime and other negative stories in their communities, that it is difficult to find follow-up about implications for safety, while stories about people, culture, opportunity, and solutions have largely been left untold.

The Ohio Local News Initiative aims to be “community-focused,” meaning that it will work with existing community media outlets to share and distribute each other’s stories. It will also launch a community reporting program and will “train, pay, and work directly with community members to lift the voices of their neighbors and help set the agenda for the newsroom.” (The newsroom leaders will flesh out the details after they’re hired, but the model sounds similar to how Canopy Atlanta works.)

The launch comes at a good time for Cleveland and the state of Ohio. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has been hacked away at over the last few years. Despite its best efforts, residents are left wanting more.

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