This is a new series to highlight insights in my local community.
Local newspapers provide access to communities in a way that makes in depth connections that a regional or national newspaper may not have time to cover. For Akron, The Devil Strip (TDS) was unique in filling that role while also highlighting the area artists, creatives, and nonprofits . When I was younger I moved up and down the east coast. When I get to a new city or town the first thing I tend to look for to assess a community are its library and its community newspaper. When I came to Akron four years ago, I was sold when it was clear to see that this city poured into both investments. The demise of TDS was disappointing, but the biggest loss was the hole it created for community journalists to connect and create based on their expertise, passions, and experience. While several digital and print community media, TDS captured a diverse and inclusive picture of Akron, but shine the unique artistry of our city’s shared culture. Dara Harper, Director of Programming at ArtsNow and creator of the Akron Black Artists guild, sees the importance as knowing that someone is, “recording our story” not just major headlines, it opens us to see how Akron “shares a narrative”. The culmination of the team in place was a bright spot that shared a special place in the heart of Akron. What was more important is the position the organization was taking to provide a pathway for the everyday Akronite to submit their voice towards covered content. At the beginning of 2021, they offered training for citizens on the foundations of reporting and writing the news. The pilot program included around 25 members and many went on to publish throughout the year.
While my experience as a writer for TDS was short meeting the people behind the paper showed a dedication to a mission that was bigger than the news. It was a mission to shine a light on Akron, both the achievements and challenges. There are credible newspaper publications in the region, like the Akron Beacon Journal. Susan Zake, professor from Kent State University and former photographer for the Akron Beacon Journal, points out hyperlocal newspapers, “filled a void of the local coverage of the art, culture, and music scene” and also provided an “an aesthetic” that was unique to the area. Unlike a regional newspaper it allowed a pathway to fill both “informative and creative needs.” Now once again it seems there is a void of coverage in this area. How can a community return to filling this void in hyperlocal journalism? As Susan Zake notes, “collective voices and take submissions.”
Ken Evans, a former community journalist, shares “there is a desire to invest in it, there is a desire to have voices. The biggest thing is we have to be okay with risk in the city and run with their ideas.” The biggest desire is the power of community-based journalism to be a tool for the people and by the people. So the question is where are those tools now?
What could be shaped and formed into a viable pathway for the community to share their vision and voice?
One such place where the writer can continue to send their submission is the Serve the People newsletter. Wren, their contributor, describes as a “radical mutual aid organization founded in Akron after the protests of 2020. Their newsletter is the Revolutionary Akron Press, or RAP, for short. It is a Patreon funded paper that dives into critical topics in Akron such as the housing crisis. The newspaper speaks to the mission of the organization. RAP writer Wren says it is a “tool of accountability” that sheds light on issues that Akron needs to know. They started their paper in 2021 with the hopes to illuminate how people are struggling in Akron. Wren hopes the paper can position itself as a “shield and sword” for the city. She welcomes writers to go through the membership process and get writing! While it may be a small niche spot, writing as an Akron tool for change, will revive itself one way or the other.