NCMA-CLE (Neighborhood & Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland) Convenes Initial Discussion

2 pm on Wednesday, 1/17/18 | at CPL Digital Library

Attendees:  Leo Jeffres, Chatham Ewing, Chuck Hoven, Cameron Caputi, Mike Psenicka, Ellen Psenicka, Pierre Bejjani, Richard T. Andrews, Steve FitzGerald, Julie Brown, Rich Weiss, Ulysses Glen, Charles Huffman

NCMA-CLE Initial Discussion Meeting Notes

Photo by Leo Jeffres

At the January 17 meeting, attendees introduced themselves and discussed the benefits of forming an association of Greater Cleveland’s small, local media producers, called NCMA-CLE (Neighborhood & Community Media Assoc. of Greater Cleveland).

The group suggested benefits to associating, including media producer discussions ranging from journalistic best-practices to navigating controversial coverage; comradery at annual awards and meetings; network content like the former “Police Beat” and “Dumb Criminal of the Month.”  Leo Jeffres (CSU Prof Emeritus, Communications) cited the amount of organizing labor required as the greatest challenge to the former Cleveland Neighborhood Press Association.  He said, “I thought, in a sense, I did all of the organizing; that someone else is doing this is wonderful.”  Leo wants to participate, to advise, and to help.

Leo feels the former association’s annual awards conference was to recognize community papers “because there isn’t much recognition of community papers, in general.”  The awards conference process included soliciting entries (with entry fee to cover costs), asking the Society of Professional Journalists to solicit their membership to fill a panel of media judges, hosting an event (usually in the spring), and passing out the awards.  Leo offered to make the contact with SPJ, himself, and also offered to ask CSU to provide a conference room and food for judge panels as they have in the past.  He said regular membership meetings were held at Theo’s or other neighborhood locations—even quarterly—to bring members into the neighborhoods.  Leo added that he thinks the proposed NCMA-CLE needs someone younger than himself to call meetings, organize, and fully participate.

Chuck Hoven (Plain Press) volunteered to research the old bylaws from the former association to be used as a template to draft a new constitution for a new NCMA-CLE.  Members discussed the potential benefits of association-wide advertising, but generally agreed there would be a need for a dedicated sales person to sell, service, adjust graphics, and invoice for the association.

Photo by Leo Jeffres

Rich Weiss (The Tremonster) suggested his nonprofit could write a grant request to fund a dedicated sales person to be there for members to make adjustments even under the time sensitivity of print deadlines.  Pierre Bejjani (Profile News Ohio) explained how Diversity Advertising Agency is able to take in advertising content and convert it into multiple languages for his multiple ethnic newspaper clients.  Leo said, “If you can fund a sales person for the whole unit, you’d be doing something we’ve tried before but never got there.”  Chuck added that graphic skills would be required.

Leo feels association-wide advertising also offers a layer of protection against pressure from one major advertiser on one independent media outlet because all association papers are seeking the ad.  He sees this as an additional benefit to association-wide advertising beyond increasing advertising revenues.  Chuck described the difficulties the former association had without a dedicated person coordinating different column sizes and different publication dates, leaving everybody with their hectic publication schedules trying to say, “How can we do this?”  He said, “We just gave up, basically.  The problem wasn’t that it wasn’t a good idea.”

Other than these challenges sharing advertising and the workload required to keep a NCMA-CLE going, the group could find few drawbacks to association.  Ulysses Glen (East Side News) said, “We looked forward to meeting with each other for the conferences and meetings in the neighborhoods at the different restaurants—it was always a plus, actually.”

Chuck pointed to efforts by Rich and Neighborhood Media to organize community press conferences with Mayor Jackson as an example of recent successes of community media collaborating on content, and that an association would bring more weight to such community media conferences, and pressure to answer tougher, meatier, and then even follow-up questions.  Pierre suggested also sharing stories like a wire service for outlets to pick and choose what might impact their own communities.

Cameron Caputi (Plain Press) offered to use GIS mapping software to generate a map of our collective coverage, overlaps, and gaps.  He also suggested aggregating web and social media stories from all association members, and Chatham Ewing (Cleveland Public Library, Digital Library Strategist) pointed out that any digital aggregation of our content would also create a parallel advertising opportunity to the print advertising opportunity.

Julie Brown (Old Brooklyn News) asked attendees to take turns around the table defining how their outlet is “going digital,” because the term can mean many different things and she was seeking clarity.  Julie also suggested an association could help all outlets keep up on industry trends.  Members discussed their current uses of and challenges with the internet and social media.

Ellen Psenicka (The Neighborhood News) sparked a conversation on the boundaries of crime reporting.  Mike Psenicka (The Neighborhood News) found a strong response to marketing packages including online linking to advertiser sites, and he’s been researching Bluetooth close-range marketing techniques.  Mike recently took the reins at his family-owned, weekly paper and has made many changes (from broadsheet to tabloid, from mostly black & white to full color).  Though he feels promotions like his concept of a Valentine’s Day “Loving Couple” story (including a contest to win a limo ride and a steakhouse meal) is good for audience engagement, but he wants to get more readers involved: encouraging recipe submissions and other community involvement—even citizen journalism.  He said, “I think that’s what will make us survive; people want to see what’s up with their neighbors.”  Mike also sees value in showing how larger stories relate locally: “Human trafficking—Ohio is big for it; Toledo is huge for it—they caught a guy in Independence at one of the hotels with some girls…that’s really local, and that’s a huge story.  I want to make people think, not just vomit up what the cities give us.”

Photo by Leo Jeffres

Richard T. Andrews (Real Deal Press) gave the group an overview of his own history in Cleveland media and media associations, and his pursuit of a sustainable media outlet model.  He set up a blog in 2007 (with the help of early-internet-adopter, John Ettorre—who wanted to attend this NCMA-CLE discussion but couldn’t make it).  On first blogging, Richard said, “I wrote one piece on an experience I had going to a restaurant on Public Square and I got 19 comments that so discombobulated me that I didn’t write anything for about two years.”  It took the Cuyahoga County government crisis to get Richard writing again, but now his paper is migrating from the blog to a full website and he plans to go all-digital in a month.  “Content is king, and you have to be able to reach people however they want to be reached.  You’ve really got to be pretty eclectic, and do it across all the different levels—and also, try and figure out how to do that and keep peace at home.”

Charles Huffman (Cleveland Community News) suggested, “There’s one thing all these papers have in common: not enough advertising.  He [Richard] said peace at home?  Increase your advertising; you’ll see the wife smile.  It changes everything; that’s what we need.”  Ulysses spoke to his and Charles’ experience starting the Minority Publishers Association, which is still in existence.  Ulysses said, “I have a reporter that goes to events and covers the events under the Minority Publishers Association,” actually.  He voiced support for the idea of the association hiring a person to oversee advertising from the conglomerates and larger advertisers, which would be of great benefit to his paper.

Ulysses suggested there is a great need to cover high school sports and community sports.  “That’s a large area that people get interested in when they see their kids involved in these sports activities that we cover in our newspaper.  It’s very difficult for us, as one paper, to cover all the sports activities out there—if we could do that as a group, I think that would be very successful.”

Ulysses also spoke to his positive experience working with Chatham and the CPL Digital Library’s free service of digitizing local Cleveland newspapers.  His East Side News was the first paper digitized by the library (followed by The Plain Press and The Tremonster) and his readers now have online access to his archives going back to his first issue in 1980, all indexed to it is searchable).  Chatham added that his department is aiming to see community newspaper digitization expanded, and hopes teachers will be able to bring greater depth to their students’ understanding of local history by accessing this information about happenings in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. Chatham said, “Frequently, there are enough differences between what the local newspapers report and what the Plain Dealer or one of the majors reports, so that the student actually has a chance to triangulate on that, and think about it in a way that actually has depth, as opposed to just having the one story.”  Rich spoke to the importance of supporting, protecting, and maintaining Cleveland’s diversity of community media outlets.

The group unanimously agreed to meet again to discuss potential bylaws, potential collaboration, and to pursue the eventual formation of a NCMA-CLE.  The next meeting was set for 10:00 am on February 17 at CPL Digital Library (3rd Floor 325 Superior Ave Cleveland, Ohio 44114 | | 216-623-2813).  For more information, contact meeting organizer Rich Weiss at 216-712-3565 or

Photo by Leo Jeffres

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