Photo by Laura Watilo Blake
Colleen Smitek, a local journalist who most recently served as the editor of Lake Erie Living,
has been named editor in chief of Cleveland Magazine.
She replaces the outgoing Kim Schnieder, who has taken a job at the Cleveland Clinic.
In a letter to readers
published this week, Cleveland Magazine
president and publisher Lute Harmon Jr. called Smitek a "die-hard Clevelander who grew up on trips to Municipal Stadium, the West Side Market and Playhouse Square." She started her career at the Lorain Morning Journal
and previously worked for Cleveland Magazine
before taking the leadership role at Lake Erie Living,
another publication owned by Great Lakes Publishing.
"Colleen is an amazing talent that is coming back to us to take the helm at a very important time in our history," Harmon wrote. "Cleveland Magazine
is very proud to have been your guide to living an inspired life in Cleveland since its founding almost 50 years ago ... One of our founding principles was that the cultural assets and lifestyle opportunities available here are unrivaled anywhere — and they deserve to be celebrated in a way that only a first-class glossy magazine can do.
"Now with the proliferation of the digital age, there are many more opportunities to celebrate the grit and glamour unique to our city. I am very excited for Colleen and her team as they leverage the magazine and its digital channels and take on the challenge of entertaining and informing a new generation of inspired Clevelanders."
That description from the magazine's publisher is revealing. In its corporate PR patois, it confirms perceptions that the glossy which for years was a destination for illuminating stories about the city and its most powerful players has embraced a more publicity-oriented role. (As described, it's indistinguishable from an editorial arm of Destination Cleveland.)
Nevertheless, when reached by Scene about the new gig, Smitek said she was excited to dive back into the world of longform storytelling.
"As for the focus of the magazine, we’d like to help our readers get back out in the world, when they feel ready, and rediscover the people and places that make Cleveland such an interesting place to live," she wrote in an email. "To that end, we’ll be bringing back dining reviews and highlighting upcoming events as much as possible."
City and regional magazines often represent a discordant blend of narrative and service journalism, colorful feature stories and important investigative reporting published alongside the moneymaking (and resource-intensive) rankings of doctors and suburbs and so forth. Under the leadership of Lute Harmon, Jr. — the son of founder Lute Harmon — Cleveland Magazine
has veered deeper and deeper into this ad-friendly service territory, and has failed to successfully navigate a transition onto digital platforms.
Smitek, in other words, has her work cut out for her.
But she should be mindful, as she embarks upon what could be a pivotal tenure, not only of Harmon Jr's vision — celebrating grit and glamour and all that jazz — but of the original vision, which, according to founding editor Michael Roberts, was to serve as "an independent voice that could address the status quo of a city mired in its past."
In his 2018 book on his Cleveland journalism career, Roberts described the early days of the magazine, remarking on his transition from The Plain Dealer
and salivating at the potential to tell Cleveland's story in longer, more honest formats. He relished the opportunity to attract the region's top writers, who would "portray Cleveland as it was and not as a myth."
Cleveland needs a lot more of that these days.
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