“5 questions with” is a series we created so you can learn more about Signal Cleveland’s beat reporters.
Olivera Perkins, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.
Why did you become a journalist?
I always joke and say that it must have been a defective gene that caused me to become a journalist. No one in her right mind would have entered the newspaper industry, which was already in economic turmoil 30 years ago, and remained as it became increasingly more chaotic. For me, there was no other choice. I consider journalism my professional calling.
Yes, I buy into the notion that journalists write the first draft of history. When I was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University several years ago, professors used case studies that referenced some of the stories I had done on community redevelopment in Cleveland. (In fact, the work of journalists was frequently referenced.)
Yes, I believe the work of journalists can make a difference – in big and small ways. I enjoy doing in-depth stories and projects. But I also delight in doing more basic stories providing readers with information they find invaluable. I remember doing a story years ago, which explained predatory lending in detail and included where homeowners, who had been victims of toxic mortgages, could get help. I received many calls and emails from people who said they were in the process of saving their homes because of the information provided in the article.
Yes, I believe that being a journalist in the United States is unlike being one in any other country because of the First Amendment. Freedom of the press, in essence, is a pillar of democracy.
These are some of the principles that have kept me in journalism despite enduring some difficult times. Just about everyone, within the last several decades, who decided to become a print journalist knew that they were doing so at their own risk. This is especially true in the 21st Century after the rise of the internet has nearly made the primary funding model for newspapers, print advertising, nearly obsolete. Working at The Plain Dealer for many years, I and my former colleagues became victims of policies attributed to such decline. I saw the newsroom where I worked, which once had well over 300 people, shrink to about 30 and then to zero. This primarily occurred through layoffs and buyouts.
Still, I have never regretted my decision to become a journalist. I love what I do.
I consider it a privilege to be back reporting in Greater Cleveland, after a few years absence.
Why did you join Signal Cleveland?
I totally believe in Signal Cleveland’s mission, which is rooted in the philosophy of the importance of being a community-focused newsroom that provides vital news and information to Greater Clevelanders. It’s great sharing this mission with my colleagues, who are a great team with which to work.
I joined Signal Cleveland because I believe that nonprofit newsrooms hold the future for journalism, especially local reporting. I believe that community-based, community-funded journalism is more responsive to community needs than media chains based in other cities.
What’s your favorite story you’ve worked on so far? Or What’s your favorite story you’ve ever done?
I have many favorites. And you know, it’s always hard to choose among favorites. I’m going to say the story of workers at the old Hugo Boss men’s suits plant in Brooklyn.
I wrote stories about the workers for several years, as they saved the plant twice before it finally closed. Many of the stories drew high reader response, as measured by online analytics, Letters to the Editor, emails and phone calls. The workers’ fight resonated in a blue-collar city that had suffered decades of manufacturing loss. Until the plant finally closed, many readers had seen the workers as almost mythically defying this norm.
What do you want to work on/cover in 2023? Or What would you like to learn more about in Cleveland?
I am a shoe-leather reporter. That means I like to spend a lot of time getting to know people I cover and the issues they face. I aim to spend more time in 2023 out in the community working my beat.
My goal is to cover how bread-and-butter economic issues are impacting everyday people in Greater Cleveland. Have you had to get a side hustle to make ends meet? Are you seeing the early signs of gentrification in your neighborhood, such as high rent increases forcing out working-class tenants? Is your small business still struggling to rebound from the early days of the pandemic? Are you a worker who decided to get retraining after your job was eliminated during the pandemic? Have you had to leave a job or turn down a job because of transportation issues?
Please don’t hesitate contacting me to tell your stories. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a side hustle? (hobbies count!)
My hobby is singing. I’ve taken voice lessons for years at The Music Settlement, which many of us consider one of Greater Cleveland’s treasures.