Opening The Observer

Heights Observer honored again

For the sixth consecutive year, the Heights Observer was recognized as one of Ohio’s best community publications in the All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards.

The program is run by the Press Club of Cleveland as part of its mission to advocate for the importance of journalism in a democracy. With more than 700 entries, it’s one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation.

The Heights Observer earned second-place, with “Best in Ohio” honors going to the Cleveland Jewish News. The Observer won the top honor in 2020 and again last year, and came in second place in 2018, ’19 and ’21.

“Heights of Democracy,” the monthly column written by Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg, earned second place in the public service category for non-daily newspapers.

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Volume 16, Issue 7, Posted 9:55 AM, 06.27.2023

The nuts and bolts of producing the Observer

Assembling a publication like the Heights Observer is a puzzle. An average 20-page issue contains about 23–28 articles of varying subjects, length and immediacy; 60 ads in a dozen configurations; and a number of standing components that all need to be meshed into a neat and readable package.

Our deadlines are set up to allow a small, remote, part-time staff to follow a smooth and thoughtful production process. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder what goes on in the typical two and a half weeks between our article deadline and the day the issue gets distributed.

Here’s an outline of how an issue of the Observer comes together.

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Volume 16, Issue 3, Posted 11:09 AM, 02.28.2023

Why the Observer isn't a traditional newspaper

The Heights Observer’s strength—and its greatest weakness—is the way we come by the information that fills its pages. Every word is an unpaid contribution, uploaded directly to our publishing system by people from the CH-UH area we serve.

It’s a strength because it results in a publication people recognize as strongly reflecting the community. It’s a weakness because we can’t operate the way a traditional newspaper would—assigning reporters to cover important issues and events. There are a lot of goings-on people need or want to know about that we never publish, simply because nobody stepped up to gather the information and write an article. And unless someone comes forward with a seven-figure endowment, it’s not likely to change.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 12:00 PM, 01.31.2023

12 reasons to shop local for the holidays

At this time of year, we typically run a local holiday shopping guide. I’d like to say it’s a reader favorite, but the truth is we get underwhelming feedback on it from readers and businesses alike.

We hope to replace it next month with a guide to holiday events and programs that will take place in the community throughout December.

But our message about supporting neighborhood businesses is as relevant as ever: Please shop local for the holidays.

Here are 12 reasons why:

  1. It’s personal. The people who run local independent businesses tend to be deeply embedded in the community. They’re friends and neighbors. So who manages the nearby big box stores? Have you ever met them? Where do they live, shop, send their kids to school?
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Volume 15, Issue 11, Posted 10:05 AM, 11.01.2022

Heights Observer recognized as Ohio's best community newspaper

The Heights Observer was recognized as “Ohio’s Best Community Newspaper” at the 44th Annual All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards, a program of the Press Club of Cleveland. The honor was announced in early June at an awards dinner at the House of Blues.

For each of the past five years, the Heights Observer has received an award in this category, earning top honors in 2020 and 2022, and honorable mention in 2018, ’19 and ’21.

David Budin was recognized this year for his “Songs and Stories” column, with an honorable mention in the highly competitive category for Ohio’s best columnist. He won first place in that category in 2019.

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Volume 15, Issue 7, Posted 5:48 AM, 06.30.2022

Maintaining balance in covering Issue 9

The Heights Observer doesn’t endorse political candidates or issues, and the Issue 9 ballot referendum in Cleveland Heights is no exception.

But Issue 9 represents the biggest challenge we’ve had to date in making this claim. That’s because FutureHeights, which publishes the Observer, has taken a public position on the matter.

FutureHeights receives federal grant money, allocated by the city of Cleveland Heights, to work as a community development corporation on the city’s behalf. It was involved in planning for the development project that gave rise to Issue 9. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for FutureHeights to have a strong opinion on the matter.

But how can the Observer claim impartiality when its publisher has taken a side? It’s admittedly a fine hair to split.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:41 PM, 04.01.2022

Mopping up after a tough campaign season

Note: This column was written a week before Election Day.

I had assumed the Cleveland Heights mayoral campaign would be the exciting race in this election season. Then the school board election took over. I think it's a sign of civic health that people are so engaged and passionate about local elections; it hasn't always been that way. But it's not pleasant.

As always, the goal for the Heights Observer was to serve as a venue for discussion about election issues without taking sides in the debate.

We didn’t make any endorsements (we never do), and we strived to publish the full range of viewpoints we received. That didn’t stop people from complaining we were biased—particularly those whose viewpoints we chose not to print.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:48 AM, 10.29.2021

Another award and a relaunch of the Observer blog

Heights Observer honored again

For the fourth consecutive year, the Heights Observer was recognized as one of Ohio’s best community publications in the All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards.

The program is run by the Press Club of Cleveland as part of its mission to recognize the importance of good journalism. With more than 700 entries, it’s one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation.

The Heights Observer earned second place, with top honors going to the Cleveland Jewish News.

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Volume 14, Issue 8, Posted 3:36 PM, 07.30.2021

Honoring graduating seniors, and explaining a decision about candidates

We introduced “Senior Shout Outs” last year to provide an opportunity to recognize the high school seniors who couldn’t do anything but watch as the pandemic ruined every anticipated senior-spring rite of passage—from prom to skip day to commencement itself.

It was a last-minute idea that allowed parents and friends to shine the spotlight on 2020 graduates whose big moment had been overrun by current events.

The class of 2021 has had a strange and disappointing year, too, and we’re offering Senior Shout Outs again, in the June issue, so you can give public recognition to the graduating senior(s) in your bubble.

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Volume 14, Issue 4, Posted 10:28 AM, 04.01.2021

We're partnering on a new podcast

By mid-February, there were four declared candidates for Cleveland Heights’ first-ever mayoral election. 

It’s going to be an interesting campaign, and the Heights Observer plans to cover it as we’ve covered previous elections. We won’t endorse candidates, and we’ll focus on giving air to the many reasonable and civil perspectives our readers are sure to offer.

But not all election issues are matters of opinion; they can’t be resolved by candidates’ statements and the back-and-forth of the opinion page. Some questions require context and subject-matter expertise. This is the kind of work the Heights Observer struggles with, given that we operate without any staff reporters.

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Volume 14, Issue 3, Posted 10:43 AM, 02.26.2021

Heights Observer's election policy: more—and less—of the same

In this year’s Nov. 2 general election, Cleveland Heights voters will elect a mayor for the first time in the city’s history. If more than two mayoral candidates file valid petitions (with the required number of signatures) with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections by the June 16 deadline, CH voters will first narrow the field in a Sept. 14 primary election.

In addition, four CH City Council seats, three UH City Council seats, and three CH-UH Board of Education seats will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

In past local-election years, the Heights Observer's election policy limited contributions by candidates to online-only publication in the month or two prior to the November election. The intent was to manage the potential of having more last-minute submissions from candidates than we could publish in limited print space.

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Volume 14, Issue 2, Posted 12:33 PM, 01.29.2021

Join our free seminar, How to Write for the Observer

Somewhere around 800 people have contributed to the Heights Observer since its first issue in April 2008.

It sounds like an impressive number to me.

On the other hand, it represents just 1.2 percent of the 66,000 people who live in the Heights Observer’s service area of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

So we have room to grow.

If you’ve ever considered contributing an article to the Heights Observer, you may want to sign up for our upcoming online seminar, which we have cleverly titled “How to Write for the Observer.”

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 10:58 AM, 01.01.2021

How to be part of the public debate

Let’s begin with the notion that public finance isn’t simple.

The laws that regulate it can be ambiguous and contradictory. Everybody has their own way to interpret how well money is being spent. Most of all, public finance is the expression of political processes.   

So even if you could boil it down to a clear set of facts, there’s going to be heated debate when a CH-UH school levy appears on the ballot twice in the same year.

The Heights Observer doesn’t take sides on issues like the recent school levy. Its role is to host the debate—like a soapbox on the corner.

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Volume 13, Issue 12, Posted 8:59 AM, 12.01.2020

This year, more than ever, let's shop local for the holidays

At the height of the pandemic, Walmart doubled its online sales for the second quarter (April through June) compared to last year. Its stores, which do far more business than the online operation, were having a banner year, too, with companywide sales up 10 percent in the second quarter. Those extra sales add up to new profits of $1 billion a month.

Here's some perspective: The city of Cleveland Heights, with an annual budget of $45 million, could operate for a year and then some on the extra pandemic profit Walmart made this Monday and half of Tuesday.

And that's just Walmart. At Target, second-quarter sales were up nearly 11 percent, and online sales tripled the total from the same time in 2019.

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 6:26 PM, 11.01.2020

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

As you probably saw on page 1, the Heights Observer was recently named Ohio’s best non-daily community newspaper; and our “Heights of Democracy” column, by Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg, won the top award for public service journalism.

The Press Club of Cleveland usually announces these awards at a big banquet in June, preceded by the best cocktail party of the year (if you enjoy shop talk with journalists). This year, for the obvious reason, it was delayed and then held online. I watched it from my patio and drank alone. But that didn’t diminish the moment.

Our volunteer-based business model makes the Heights Observer an outlier in the awards program. The judges are other journalists from across the country, and they haven’t always been hospitable to publications that operate without paid reporters.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 4:00 PM, 08.31.2020

Recognizing our graduating seniors

Who doesn’t remember the rite-of-passage rituals from senior year of high school? Prom, senior day for sports, senior skip day and, of course, commencement.

This year’s graduating seniors didn’t get any of that. Someday they’ll wear it as a badge of honor, but for now it just stinks.

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Volume 13, Issue 6, Posted 9:20 AM, 06.02.2020

All the news that's fit to print--if we had room

Six articles—that’s how many had been submitted for the Heights Observer’s May issue as of April 10—three days before the April 13 article deadline.

I’d expected a drop off in submissions; much of what the Observer publishes in any given month is a look ahead at events and programs. The coronavirus means no events on the horizon, and no articles about them.

Feeling a bit desperate, I sent an e-mail to members of the Observer’s newly re-forming advisory committee, and some regular contributors, asking for articles and asking that they spread word, far and wide, to anyone who might have ever considered writing for the publication.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 11:49 AM, 04.30.2020

The Heights Observer in the season of coronavirus

These past weeks have been a struggle for everyone—especially small businesses and the people who work for them.

The pandemic forced many to close without warning, and it’s a safe bet that some won’t have the financial reserves to ever reopen. Whether social distancing lasts for a month or a year, it’s certain to change the landscape of our community.

At the same time, I marvel at the energy and ingenuity of the people who run these businesses. Over the course of a weekend in mid-March, they deployed apps, set up curbside service and home delivery, and made other changes to keep money coming in—even at a trickle.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 4:37 PM, 04.02.2020

Heights Observer's weekly e-mail newsletter gets a new look

The new year brought the introduction of our redesigned e-mail newsletter, the Heights Observer Weekly E-News. It’s only the second time we’ve overhauled its look since the newsletter was launched in 2012.

While the newsletter needed to be refreshed, the real reason we did it was to make it mobile-responsive—easy to read on small screens.

The old format was built on outdated technology, and the readership data reflected that. The rule of thumb about online content today is that you can expect at least half your audience to access it via smart phones and tablets. But the e-news was getting only 30 percent of its readership through mobile devices.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:27 PM, 02.01.2020

One last look at the Observer's role in Issue 26

With the contentious Issue 26 campaign behind us, residents of Cleveland Heights seem dedicated to moving forward together.

But the purpose of this column is to provide transparency about decisions made at the Heights Observer. So at the risk of opening old wounds, here’s some background on the past several months.

We set out to serve as a forum for discussion about Issue 26 without inserting ourselves into the debate. It was easier said than done, and we weren’t fully prepared for the aggressive lobbying we'd receive along the way, or the pressure we'd feel.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 5:04 PM, 12.02.2019

Six good reasons to shop local for the holidays—and every day

Here are six good reasons to shop local this holiday season:

  1. If you like the Heights for its walkable access to lively, interesting business districts, the way to keep these districts healthy is to spend money in them—for special occasions and everyday life. 
  2. I value the process of finding thoughtful, unique gifts in shops run by people I know as friends. When I give such a gift, it comes along with a little story about the great shop where I got it.
  3. All the money we spend on the Internet and most of what we spend at national chain stores leaves the community forever. But most of the money spent with an independent local merchant stays in the community, where it recirculates and supports the local economy.
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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:12 AM, 11.03.2019

Navigating an important civic debate

For most of the nation, this is an off-year election. But in Cleveland Heights, the November 2019 ballot will offer one of the biggest decisions residents have ever been asked to make: Should the city change its basic form of government?

The Heights Observer hasn’t taken sides on previous ballot issues, and won’t on this one either. Our guiding principal is to favor the individual voices arising from the community. So every opinion you read in the Heights Observer is that of the person or group whose name is attached to it.

I’ve heard criticism that the Heights Observer should do more to explain pros and cons of the ballot issue to help people decide how to vote. But as a paper built entirely on contributions from the community, we can’t claim that kind of expertise.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:28 PM, 09.02.2019

Everything old is new again

What goes around comes around. The more things change, the more they stay the same. . . .

As I looked back at 10 years of March issues of the Heights Observer, those familiar and often clichéd sayings kept springing to mind. I kept coming upon articles that covered the same themes and topics contained in this March issue.

In March 2009, opinion writer Ralph Solonitz wrote of the near completion of repairs to the University Square garage. Recalling “when the Old May Company on the Heights held rock ‘n’ roll record hops on the parking lot grounds,” Solonitz envisioned a rock concert on the rooftop.

In his first State of the City address, the subject of a page one story in this issue, University Heights Mayor Brennan touched on the need for redevelopment of the now largely vacant University Square.

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Volume 12, Issue 3, Posted 11:01 AM, 03.04.2019

When we support local businesses, we all win

We’ve been celebrating the first 10 years of publishing the Heights Observer by looking back—one month at a time—at headlines for that month that we’ve published over the past decade.

As I look back at a decade of Februaries, I’m struck by how many of the local businesses that were the subject of Heights Observer stories are no longer operating. Here are a few that you may remember: La Tea Dolly, Heights Guitars, Rockefeller’s Heights Floral Shoppe, Big Dog Theater, A Phiner Bistro, Katz Club Diner.

We’ve all heard that small businesses have a high risk of failure.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 10:07 AM, 02.01.2019

In 2019, join your fellow residents in writing for the Heights Observer

As I look back at the 10 January issues of the Heights Observer that we published between 2009 and 2018, I am struck by how many frequent contributors we’ve had—folks like David Budin, who wrote a story for our first issue and whose current column is on page 24 of this one, and Shari Nacson, who wrote her first story for us in 2014 and has been contributing almost monthly since March 2018 (she has two stories in this issue).

But out of the 1,450 Heights residents who have created accounts to submit articles in the Heights Observer’s Member Center, many of them are one-time or infrequent contributors—and that’s OK.

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, January seems quiet and calm. It’s a good time to reflect and set new goals for the year ahead. If you’ve enjoyed reading the Observer in the past, consider contributing a story in 2019.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 12:04 PM, 01.02.2019

10 Decembers: looking back on a decade of the Heights Observer

December is the height of the holiday season, when hope and excitement for the future are in the air. The community has processed and pondered the meaning of November election results, with either hope or trepidation for the coming year. For local business owners, the holiday season is make-or-break time. The strength of holiday shopping sales often determines if they will remain a going concern or close up shop come January.  

The December 2008 issue celebrated the opening of two new businesses in Cleveland Heights: Cleveland Violins at 2917 Mayfield Road and Taste at 2317 Lee Road. Cleveland Heights residents had just voted down an income tax increase proposal, and resident Toby Rittner reported on the various cuts to government services that would result and the need for economic development of “the top of the hill.” In an effort to help local retail businesses, the Heights Observer debuted its first-annual Holiday Gift Guide, a one-page listing of offerings from local businesses.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 5:08 PM, 11.29.2018

Ten years in, here's why it matters when you shop local for the holidays

We’ve been celebrating the Heights Observer’s 10th year by looking back—one month at a time—at a decade’s worth of headlines. This month is different; this month we bring you our annual “Shop local for the holidays” guide.

Here’s why it's important:

  1. Economic impact. Money spent over the Internet effectively leaves the community forever. The same goes for most of the money spent at big box stores. But much of the money spent at independent local merchants gets recycled back into the community, where it continues to feed the local economy.
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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 12:29 PM, 11.01.2018

October issues often look ahead to November

The Heights Observer is a monthly publication; as such, the content of any given issue primarily focuses on the current month. One occasional exception to that unwritten rule is the October issue.

In those election years when local issues and candidates are on Cleveland Heights and University Heights ballots, the October edition of the Heights Observer looks ahead to early November, when Heights residents will vote, and publishes a voters guide.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 2:52 PM, 09.27.2018

10 Septembers: looking back on a decade of the Heights Observer

September means the start of the school year, but in the Heights it’s also the start of theater seasons, and many arts and cultural programs, as families return from vacation and settle back in to community life.

It’s also when the political season starts in earnest, especially every two years when candidates for city council and school board—and local issues—appear on the ballot. In September 2008, University Heights was in the midst of a debate on whether or not it needed a Charter Review Commission. Several UH City Council members were interested in investigating changing the charter to a city manager system, or at least a city administrator system, and had decided that a charter review process would be the way to accomplish this. Then-UH Mayor Beryl Rothschild vetoed a charter review process. Several UH citizens used the Observer to express their concerns about the process.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:37 PM, 09.03.2018

The hardest issue we've ever produced

Of all the issues, the most difficult was August 2014, which covered the community’s response to the shooting death of Jim Brennan, owner of the Colony on Lee Road.

There were layers of grief—for the man, for the business and its employees, and the community itself.

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Volume 11, Issue 8, Posted 12:49 PM, 07.31.2018

Looking back at a decade of Heights summers

In July summer is in full swing and Heights residents are generally thinking about summer reading programs at the library, concerts at Cain Park and outdoor festivals. July also signals the start of the election season as local candidates seek to connect with residents at block parties. The Heights Observer is often fortunate to have the service of college-age interns during the summer, who enjoy writing about the real-world issues our community faces as a means to sharpen their skills and improve their future job prospects.

By July 2008 the foreclosure crisis had begun to hit the Heights hard, and the top story in the fourth issue of the Heights Observer told how Heights residents were beginning to organize a response. In “Community addresses foreclosure threats,” Ann McFarland reported on a panel discussion organized by the League of Women Voters to discuss the issue, and Judi Miles wrote “Foreclosure and hope in the Heights,” about how the crisis was affecting the value of homes and her outlook on the future of her neighborhood.

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Volume 11, Issue 7, Posted 6:31 PM, 06.28.2018

10 Junes: Looking back on a decade of the Heights Observer

In June 2008, the nation was in the worst economic downturn since 1929, and the lead story in the third issue of the Heights Observer told about a group of residents who had responded to deep budget cuts by taking on the cost and labor to maintain hanging baskets and planters that decorated the Cedar-Fairmount gateway each summer. They weren’t alone in considering first impressions: A letter to the editor suggested using the long-vacant “Top of the Hill” parcel at Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard as a public gathering space, anchored by a well-lit all-weather fountain.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 3:55 PM, 06.01.2018

Talks of merger, change inspire appreciation for the past

With a declining population in the region generally, and in our inner-ring suburbs specifically, it should be no surprise that consolidation was a common theme in the 2008–17 May issues of the Heights Observer. “Four parishes may be one. Merger plan means Saint Louis in Cleveland Heights will most likely close,” was the headline for the May 2008 issue’s top story. Two Cleveland Heights churches, Saint Ann (at Cedar and Coventry roads) and Saint Louis (on North Taylor Road), merged with two East Cleveland churches, Christ the King and Saint Philomena, to become Communion of Saints Parish in 2010.

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Volume 11, Issue 5, Posted 4:30 PM, 04.30.2018

A decade of news and views in the Heights

FutureHeights published the first issue of the Heights Observer 10 years ago, on April 10, 2008. To commemorate this 10-year anniversary, members of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee will take a look back at the stories that appeared in the last 10 issues for each month. I get to start us off by looking back at the 10 April issues we have published. We envisioned the Observer as a forum for Heights residents to share information about issues that were important to them. And, many of the issues we were talking about in 2008 we are still talking about, 10 years later.

The top story of the April 2008 issue mused about the future of the former Coventry school property. The school district had closed the elementary school in 2007, the building was sitting vacant, and neighbors were concerned about it attracting crime and driving down property values. A group formed to study the possibility of the site becoming an arts center. Today, April 1, 2018, the future of the Coventry property looks brighter as it is rebranded Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus and the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System officially takes possession of it, with the intention of preserving the park, the green space and the building that is now home to several arts and culture organizations.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, Posted 11:58 AM, 04.03.2018

Heights Observer readers weigh in

On April 10, the Heights Observer will be 10 years old. When we launched the newspaper 10 years ago, some thought we were crazy. Print was dead; everything should be online. Well, I don’t know about you, but even though I spend a fair amount of time in the digital world, I find the real one much more satisfying; and 10 years in, I enjoy seeing my neighbors holding the Heights Observer in their hands at the local coffee shop. It’s a fiscal affirmation that this community matters.

As we approached this 10-year milestone, we wanted to check in with our readers and find out how they thought we were doing. We conducted an online readers’ survey over several months in 2017, received 75 responses, and wanted to share them with you.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 11:19 AM, 01.31.2018

What the Heights Observer is—and isn't

When you’re involved with running a newspaper you learn there are some things that can never be said enough.

Such as: The Heights Observer is not an ordinary newspaper. In fact, if there were another word to use for it, I wouldn’t describe it as a newspaper at all. Here’s why:

  • No reporters. Every word we publish is submitted by volunteers in the community. If you call me with a great story idea, I’ll tell you the only way that story is likely to get written is if you do it yourself.  
  • Contributors are encouraged to write about people they know and organizations they work for. A traditional newspaper would view this as a conflict of interest. We believe it’s useful, as long as any relationship between the author and the subject of an article is disclosed.
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Volume 10, Issue 12, Posted 11:27 AM, 11.30.2017

David Budin column wins Press Club honors

Congratulations to David Budin, whose column “There goes the neighborhood—again” (June 2016) was awarded 2nd place for general interest columns in the All Ohio Excellence in Journalism competition, hosted by the Press Club of Cleveland. It’s one of the most competitive categories in the contest, which is open to every daily, weekly and monthly newspaper, magazine and news website in Ohio.

The first article Budin ever wrote for the Heights Observer appeared in April 2008—the paper’s inaugural issue. Since then, he’s written something for nearly every issue. Much of it has been about the arts—music in particular, which is his first love.

Over time, his regular contributions evolved into “Songs and Stories,” a near-monthly column that seems to put a finger on “Heightsness” (my word, not his)—that intangible, defining quality that makes this community unique.

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 11:56 AM, 06.29.2017

When writers have a personal interest in the articles they submit

Anyone in Cleveland Heights and University Heights who is willing to meet some basic standards of civility is invited to write for the Heights Observer.

That means our pages are filled with articles by people who have a personal interest in the events and organizations they’re covering.

That’s supposed to be forbidden at a traditional newspaper. But the Observer has never paid for anything it publishes; it couldn’t exist without volunteer contributions. So at the bottom of each article, we run a biographical statement that aims to disclose any pertinent information about the author’s connection to the subject matter. We believe you're smart enough to take it from there.

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 4:34 PM, 04.29.2016

How voting and holiday shopping are alike

By the first week of November, elections will be over. You’re smart enough to make your own decisions—and the community is too diverse for the small group of us who work on the Heights Observer to have any business telling you what to think.

That’s why it’s a core principle of the Observer to facilitate discussion of public issues without taking sides. The Observer doesn't endorse candidates or issues, and we don’t filter out ideas we dislike.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 11:44 AM, 10.30.2015

The Observer welcomes opinions about candidates and issues

Municipal elections are coming up this November. This is the fourth local election cycle that the Heights Observer has been through since its inception, and it, like the ones that have come before it, is an important one.

Cleveland Heights residents will vote for three of seven members of city council this year. University Heights residents will vote for four of seven members of council. Residents of both cities will vote for two of five members of the CH-UH Board of Education.

In addition, the City of Cleveland Heights has a proposal on the ballot to raise its income tax from 2 percent to 2.25 percent.

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Volume 8, Issue 9, Posted 11:27 PM, 08.31.2015

Nominate your neighborhood’s businesses for Best of the Heights

As I read through this issue of the Heights Observer, I’m excited by how many residents are working to build community in their neighborhoods. On page 5, Susie Kaeser writes about the July 4 parade that she and her neighbors on Compton Road organized. On page 6, Brenda May writes about an impromptu public arts project that appeared in her neighborhood just prior to the Noble Neighbors Community-Wide Open House last spring.  On page 7, Art Roby writes about an initiative to support senior residents aging in place by bringing a Village in the Heights to University Heights.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 4:10 PM, 07.31.2015

'What does a city need in order to thrive instead of languish?'

At the 2015 FutureHeights annual meeting in April, we asked our keynote speaker, Bill Traynor, this question because at FutureHeights we are committed to building a vibrant and sustainable future for the Heights, and we are launching our new community-building program.

Traynor’s answer was simple and intuitive. He said that the first step is to acknowledge that everyone in our community is interconnected and choose to do something about it. Whether we want to be or not, we are all part of this place we call the Heights. We can either choose to build on our connections or try to ignore them and pretend that we are separate and different.

“Local communities today are complex ecosystems,” said Traynor, “and the capacity for reinvention and resilience can only happen when thousands of people start interacting in new ways, with the entrepreneurial energy to take risks, build new relationships, ask better questions, give of their time and resources and, ultimately, have enough fun and see enough progress to stay in the game.”

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 1:25 PM, 05.01.2015

How to contribute to the Observer—or at least have a beer

We’re having a party. Please join us.

On April 22, 6–8 p.m., the Heights Observer is hosting an informal get-together at the Bottlehouse Brewery, 2050 Lee Road. There, you can talk with many of the people who are involved with the Observer on a day-to-day basis—the editor, publisher, volunteers, members of the Observer Advisory Committee and anyone else who walks in the door.

The purpose is to have a beer and talk about our favorite subject: our community. Please join us to understand the Observer better, ask questions, float ideas or just chew the fat.

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 2:56 PM, 02.26.2015

Does something about this paper look different?

You may notice the appearance of this publication looks a little bit different this month. If you’re not able to put your finger on exactly why, here it is: The columns of type are 1/8-inch narrower than they used to be; and the gutters—the white space between each column—are 1/16-inch wider.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 3:34 PM, 01.29.2015

Trying to build a better way to report on crime

Concern about crime in Cleveland Heights is in the air. Some argue the city is falling apart; others say it’s fine. Some say we have too many police and they’re too aggressive; others want to see more on the street.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 12:20 PM, 01.03.2015

What about all that negative coverage

Like so many others, those of us who spend the most time working on the Heights Observer are weary of the superficial and negative coverage our community seems to get from Sun News, and the Plain Dealer.

We’re tired of their police blotter obsession and the habit of putting every news item into the context of decline.

In October, a few local businesses declared they were done doing business with the Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (which controls Sun News and But there’s a sense of hopelessness in the gesture. “I don’t subscribe to it at home, I don’t read it online and I don't advertise in it," one business owner told me. "What more can I do if their business model depends on running us down?”

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 3:00 PM, 12.01.2014

Editing, fact-checking and correcting errors

The biggest part of the Heights Observer's mission is to enable discussion of important community topics. Who decides what's important? You do, by choosing to contribute.

There are some boundaries. Topics must be relevant specifically in Cleveland Heights and/or University Heights. So you can discuss the merits of city council candidates, but we don’t make room for opinions on would-be presidents or governors. There are plenty of other outlets for those conversations.

There’s more than one way to contribute too, and this sometimes causes confusion. If you have something to say, here are your options:

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 3:17 PM, 09.29.2014

The other things FutureHeights does-–and will do

Well into its seventh year, the Heights Observer has achieved a basic level of sustainability—it has repeatable operating processes in place, and brings in roughly the same amount of money each month that it costs to produce.

It’s a fragile balance that would fall apart quickly without the efforts of a large group of volunteers and a core of part-time employees/contractors, who perform the daily tasks you can’t expect people to do for free 77 months in a row, and counting.

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 1:53 PM, 08.28.2014

Get Observer news each week by e-mail

Every month, nearly 10,000 copies of the Heights Observer are distributed at more than 250 locations around Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

With the possible exception of The Plain Dealer—which doesn’t provide city-by-city detail of its circulation—no other publication can claim that each issue is seen by as many people in these two communities as the Heights Observer.

But the Observer's contributors—community members like you—send in articles all the time, and you don’t have to wait until the beginning of each month to see them.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:40 PM, 06.30.2014

Send us stories, not press releases

The Heights Observer, a citizen-based publication produced monthly by FutureHeights, welcomes all community news, announcements and information. The Observer was founded by FutureHeights six years ago, for the express purpose of publishing the hyperlocal Cleveland Heights and University Heights news that traditional media outlets tend to overlook.

With no full-time staff, the Observer invites and relies on community members—be they residents, or members or employees of Heights organizations or companies—to write and submit articles about the personalities, events and news that is happening in the Heights.

Many organizations are accustomed to sending press releases about newsworthy events or causes to media outlets, with the expectation that a reporter will then follow up, call the organization, attend the event, and take the next steps to turn the basic information into a news story.


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Volume 7, Issue 6, Posted 12:12 PM, 05.30.2014

Seeking new members for the Heights Observer's advisory committee

The Heights Observer is intended to be community property—produced by the community, on behalf of the community. One of the main reasons for this column each month is to provide transparency about decisions made while trying to do that job.

Yet, while dozens of people contribute to the Observer each month, the handful of us who regularly put in the most time with it make all sorts of decisions that are never likely to be described, explained or even questioned.

It’s a small group. While we tend to communicate regularly (mostly by e-mail), we work independently. We often disagree with one another, but we are pretty good at trusting in each other’s competence, respecting each other's roles and making the best decisions we can based on the Observer’s mission.


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Volume 7, Issue 5, Posted 2:29 PM, 05.05.2014

FutureHeights seeks to engage residents through public forums and speakers

In addition to publishing the Heights Observer, FutureHeights encourages civic engagement by hosting speakers and facilitating public forums.

On April 1, FutureHeights will host a public forum entitled “Snow, Sidewalks and Shovels.” In the past, we’ve published articles about keeping our sidewalks clear for pedestrians during the winter, and many residents have weighed in on the importance of doing so given our commitment to being a walkable community. This year, however, record snowfalls have brought the issue to the forefront.

How can we keep our sidewalks clear, efficiently and cost effectively? Whose responsibility is it to do so: the homeowner’s or business owner’s, the city’s, or a combination? Join us for a discussion on April 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at The Wine Spot, 2271 Lee Road.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 8:53 AM, 04.01.2014

FutureHeights publishes the Observer to build community

For the past six years, FutureHeights, the community-building nonprofit organization serving Cleveland Heights and University Heights, has published the Heights Observer. The Observer is, without a doubt, FutureHeights’s most visible—and time-consuming—program. Yet, too often, the connection between the Observer and FutureHeights is lost.

The Observer came about six years ago, when the FutureHeights Board of Directors decided that publishing a citizen-driven newspaper was the best way to engage the citizenry and encourage community engagement, and to further FutureHeights’s mission: to promote a vibrant and sustainable future for Cleveland Heights and University Heights through innovative ideas and civic engagement.


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Volume 7, Issue 3, Posted 9:00 AM, 02.28.2014

You are invited to become an observer

I’m sure you’ve had plenty of invitations this holiday season. But before you settle down to a more comfortable pace in the new year, let me extend one more invitation: Become an observer in 2014.

We welcome submissions from all community members—no previous writing experience is required. The Heights Observer has no writing staff; it exists to publish your stories.

The Observer brings people together on important issues. It creates networks in our community and strengthens our capacity to remain vibrant in the future. Consider adding your voice to the diversity of voices in the newspaper.

Here are a few simple guidelines to get you started:

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 11:12 AM, 01.02.2014

Give a gift to your community this holiday season: shop local

I often hear how much people enjoy reading the Heights Observer and how much they feel it is needed because of the recent contraction in local news coverage by other media. I explain that the Observer is something different—we have no writing staff, and we don’t cover news the way traditional media does; we rely on contributions from Heights residents. We print the articles our residents write and submit—about what they believe is newsworthy.

Another thing that makes the Observer unique is the unwavering support of our local business community. Each month, we decide how many pages we are able to print based on the amount of advertising support we have. When we began publishing the Observer in April 2008, we printed 16 pages. We are now able to print 28 pages, and occasionally more, almost every month.

The majority of our community’s businesses are independent and locally owned. They know they are reaching you with their advertising, but they also recognize that supporting the Observer is good for the community.

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Volume 6, Issue 12, Posted 11:16 AM, 11.26.2013

FutureHeights board is engaged but not unanimous

In its more than 10-year history, FutureHeights has never endorsed an issue on any ballot. We have often discussed issues and published articles to help inform the public and stimulate civic discourse. In the August Opening the Observer column, our executive director stated that if FutureHeights decided to advocate on behalf of an issue, the opinion would be clearly marked as such.

This year, the FutureHeights Board of Directors (FH) debated whether to endorse Issue 81, the school facilities bond issue. The question the board considered was: Should FutureHeights, as an organization, endorse Issue 81?

We recognize that a comprehensive school facilities project represents a large investment in our community’s infrastructure, the likes of which we have not seen in 40 years.

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Volume 6, Issue 10, Posted 1:35 PM, 10.01.2013

Best of the Heights celebrates our local businesses

For the last eight years, FutureHeights has hosted a Best of the Heights contest to help Heights residents celebrate and appreciate the variety of locally owned independent businesses that enrich our quality of life. Each year, a committee of FutureHeights board members meets to select the categories. The committee changes the categories each year in order to enable different businesses to win.

Over the years, we’ve also tried various methods of ensuring a fair contest. For example, for the past two years, we required that each ballot have at least half of the categories filled out in order to be valid. We hoped that this would discourage ballot stuffing and ensure that people were voting for a variety of businesses in keeping with the spirit of the contest. We also required that each voter provide his or her contact information on the ballot to ensure that a person votes only once.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 1:22 PM, 08.30.2013

The Observer welcomes opinions about candidates and issues

Municipal elections are coming up this November. This is the third local election cycle that the Heights Observer has been through since its inception, and it’s an important one. Cleveland Heights residents will vote for five of seven members of city council this year. University Heights residents will vote for mayor and four of seven members of council. Residents of both cities will vote for three of five members of the CH-UH Board of Education. In addition, a school facilities bond issue, the first since the 1970s, will be on November’s ballot.

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Volume 6, Issue 8, Posted 1:56 PM, 07.31.2013

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Observer

I am always amazed when I sign in at the Heights Observer’s Member Center—where Heights residents contribute stories and we organize the production of the website, weekly e-news and monthly print edition—and I find a story from a new contributor. Often, it’s someone I’ve never met who brings a new perspective and tells me about something going on in our community that I otherwise wouldn’t know about.

We now have more than 800 people who have signed up to contribute to the Heights Observer, and they are essential to our success. With our small staff of a part-time publisher and a part-time editor, we couldn’t possibly produce a newspaper of 24–32 pages each month without the contributions of these volunteers.

Our contributors represent all facets of our community. Some are public relations staff employed by our major institutions. Others are the heads of local organizations or volunteers for their churches or neighborhood groups. Still others are engaged citizens with an eye for the news who want to help tell this community’s unique stories.

In addition to community members, we occasionally have unpaid interns who gain valuable experience in journalism and community organizing by working with us. We have been fortunate over the past year to work with several students.

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Volume 6, Issue 7, Posted 1:44 PM, 07.01.2013

The Heights Observer, one of several independent civic-journalism projects in Northeast Ohio

Recently, someone brought me a copy of the Healthy & Humane Observer and asked, “When did you start publishing this?” The fact is, the FutureHeights is not publishing any other newspapers. Healthy & Humane is one of several geographically-based or theme-based publications started by the Observer Group, but each one of us is independently owned and operated.

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 1:53 PM, 05.30.2013