The Signal Cleveland news and information model is a simple one inspired and developed through work with Cleveland Documenters and grounded in our newsroom’s values. It weaves together community building with journalism and looks to the future. Let’s take a look at the model. 

How Signal Cleveland weaves community building with journalism

Step 1: Equip and listen to residents 

Community questions drive our coverage. Questions come from public meeting notes from Cleveland Documenters and from community listening. Equipping residents to attend public meetings, hosting regular, open-invitation gatherings, and spending time out in the community listening to residents helps us stay accountable to community interests. (Learn more about our work in the Central neighborhood where we’re designing a model for community reporting.)

Why it matters: These types of power-sharing gathering spaces, like our monthly Documenters Community of Practice, help us build trust with the community, especially in places where people long ago stepped away from local news coverage that felt damaging.

Step 2: Report the story

Listening informs our reporting. Once we identify the issue we are tackling, we choose a reporting approach:

  • We answer questions through social media.
  • We create explainers to help set a level of knowledge and build a foundation for deeper discussion.
  • A Signal Cleveland reporter tracks down additional information like in this series of pieces about school safety.
  • If we believe a topic demands deeper coverage to create a path for wider understanding and accountability, we do a special project. Our special project format follows a series of steps.
    • First, we convene a group of Cleveland Documenters interested in the topic. They discuss what they’re curious about and brainstorm a list of questions. 
    • Then our special projects editor works with the group to hone the questions; compile those questions; and create a Documenters special assignment open to the Cleveland Documenters community. 
    • Documenters then interview Greater Clevelanders using the questionnaire. We have found that this approach offers a wider variety of voices on complicated topics than one or two reporters could ever hope to find. And it yields more nuanced answers because the interviewers are trusted community members. 

Why it matters: Harnessing the work of Documenters and reporters gives deeper insight into complicated topics and helps all of us as Greater Clevelanders make better-informed decisions.

Step 3: Return to community and publish! 

Before we publish a special project, we reconvene with Cleveland Documenters to discuss insights and get feedback. This helps us determine whether there are additional questions and whether what we learned makes sense. It also creates an opportunity for Documenters to discuss how the work should be distributed. This helps ensure that people closest to an issue receive the information in the most accessible way possible. 

We publish in a variety of formats to reach all audiences. Partnering with local community media, including WOVU-FM, helps us reach people not typically touched by traditional media. And working with other media organizations, like WKYC-TV and Open Campus, helps us broaden our audience. Making a news article about juvenile bindovers into a flyer for distribution in the community reached more than 300 people interested in the topic. A collaboration that included interviews done by Cleveland Documenters in partnership with The Marshall Project recently won an award from Investigative Reporters and Editors

Looking ahead, we aim to do even more to involve the community in our newsgathering. We want to make our stories available in multiple languages, and to expand our coverage and celebrate how we live as Greater Clevelanders.

Why it matters: With Cuyahoga County’s literacy rate estimated to be about 66%, content needs to be in multiple formats to reach all audiences (and it is even better when Greater Cleveland residents can be part of the newsgathering process!). 

Editor-in-Chief (she/her)
Lila is the founding editor-in-chief of Signal Cleveland, the Ohio Local News Initiative's Cleveland newsroom. Lila, who has experience in community building and journalism, led the launch of Cleveland Documenters in 2020. Formerly associate director at Neighborhood Connections, a Cleveland-based organization that has done groundbreaking work building community networks, Lila has been a newspaper reporter, a student-journalism advisor and a freelance news producer. Born and raised on the southeast side of Cleveland, Lila is a first-generation college graduate with degrees from Columbia University.