Heights Observer begins 10th year of publication
This April, the Heights Observer, a citizen-journalism publication written by and for Heights residents, begins its tenth year of publication—Volume 10, Issue 4. As the Observer reaches this milestone, FutureHeights is taking a look back at the project’s goals and asks readers to give feedback through an online survey.
Readers can access the survey on the homepage of the FutureHeights website at www.futureheights.org.
The Heights Observer has its origins in a quarterly newsletter that FutureHeights began publishing in 2002. FutureHeights was founded as a nonprofit with a mission to preserve and strengthen neighborhoods and commercial districts in Cleveland Heights, and volunteers published the newsletter for its members, focusing on city planning, design quality and historic preservation. A strategic planning process in 2007 led to the creation of the Observer.
“As part of this strategic plan, one idea rose to the surface: that a big part of our job was not just to educate citizens about issues of planning and design, but more simply to provide a forum for citizens to voice their opinions and stand for their values,” said Greg Donley, a founding member of the FutureHeights Board of Directors.
FutureHeights found a model in the Lakewood Observer, a community-based website and print newspaper that began publishing in 2005. The organization found Lakewood’s mix of civic pride, hyper-local focus and community participation to be a winning combination, worth replicating in the Heights, and entered into an agreement to license its software and create a similar product, the Heights Observer. (The Observer group now comprises several local community-based and independently owned and operated newspapers.)
The mission of the Heights Observer is to serve as a self-sustaining media outlet that strengthens the communities of Cleveland Heights and University Heights. Its goals are to be a community advocate; to be a catalyst for public discourse; to keep residents informed; to promote citizen involvement; to reflect diversity and improve the overall quality of life for residents; and to be a resource for the local, independent businesses that are central to the community's unique and vibrant character.
It does this with small, part-time staff—publisher, editor-in-chief, e-news manager and advertising manager—and submissions from volunteer writers across the community. Paid advertisements from local businesses finance the design and printing of both the monthly print issue and weekly e-news, and cover a portion of the staffing costs. Volunteers also help deliver the print issue each month to more than 300 locations throughout the Heights.
FutureHeights launched the Heights Observer on April 10, 2008, at its annual meeting. The first issue—Volume 1, Issue 1— featured an article explaining the phenomenon of citizen journalism where average people, rather than trained professionals, cover and disseminate the news—news that is important to them on the local level and news that they may know more about and care more about than a paid professional because they are involved in it.
“Some readers are still unaware that we are a citizen-journalism publication, or are unclear what that means,” said Kim Sergio Inglis, editor-in-chief of the Heights Observer. “We have no staff writers—we need community members who think there are stories the Observer should be covering to understand that we invite them to write those stories themselves."
“Because the author of any given story may have a particular point of view about a news item, because of his or her connection to it, we ask that writers disclose any affiliation—personal or professional—that they may have with the topic they are writing about," explained Sergio Inglis. "We ask that they include this information in the brief bio that appears at the end of each article. This is not something that Lakewood does, but we feel this is essential.”
The first issue comprised 16 pages of articles written by community members, including several FutureHeights board members. There were articles about community issues, such as the uncertain future of the recently closed Coventry Elementary School building (FutureHeights is now one of several community service and cultural organizations that are housed in the building), schools, arts organizations and local businesses. You can view a PDF copy of each issue of the Observer at www.heightsobserver.org/download-issues/.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.