New Nonprofit Newsroom Signal Akron Launches Today

Its staff of 11 will help fill a news gap left by media layoffs over the years

click to enlarge Signal Akron is the city's latest newsroom. - Signal
Signal Akron is the city's latest newsroom.
Today, the city of Akron's media industry grows a bit stronger.

Signal Akron, the sophomore newsroom from Signal Ohio — a network of independent, community-oriented media outlets across the state backed by local and national funders that last year launched Signal Cleveland — begins publishing.

The digital news site will begin its new reporting venture out of offices at 159 South Main St., nestled in between City Hall and the Akron Civic Theatre with six reporters and editors covering government, education, health, public safety, business and the arts. It will eventually grow to 11 full-time employees, including editor-in-chief Susan Zake.

Rita McNeil Danish, Signaln Ohio's CEO, told Scene that the new newsroom for Akronites will carry the same core reporting styles and approach as Signal Cleveland, but with some room for adaptability.

It's good news for Akron, which has had a historic lack of a strong business publication—its own Crain's, for example—and which was left with a cultural hole after The Devil Strip shuttered in 2021. It's why, Danish said, they're rolling out Akron Alive!, a weekly arts briefing, as well as focused coverage on small manufacturing business.

And, of course, the news of the day.

"I think there's going to be a focus on specific things: what's happening with the police oversight board, what is happening in aftermath of Jayland [Walker], what's happening with the school board," Danish said.
click to enlarge Susan Zake, an esteemed journalism professor at Kent State University for the past 17 years, will spearhead Signal Akron's newsroom of 11. - Signal Ohio
Signal Ohio
Susan Zake, an esteemed journalism professor at Kent State University for the past 17 years, will spearhead Signal Akron's newsroom of 11.

The same tailoring will go, she added, to coverage of Shammas Malik, the 32-year-old incoming mayor who'll be sworn into office in January. "And many people from the Cleveland perspective say, well, is it going to be a Mayor Bibb," she said, comparing the two mayors' ages. "But we're wondering: is it going to be something different? All eyes are on what that's going to look like."

Backed by a five-year startup fund of $6 million, mostly from locals at the Knight Foundation, Signal Akron is bound to adapt what the Signal Cleveland newsroom has published in the past year: community-focused and explanatory journalism ("Here's what you should know about growing marijuana at home," reads one recent piece) with eyes on city government. Signal Akron will also expand its Documenters partnership, which places citizen journalists at key city meetings.

Signal Cleveland's explainers, health and government coverage, Danish said, are those the most-read and most-trusted by readers. Election Day live coverage led to a gigantic spike in readers. Newsletters subscribers increased.

"Our numbers were higher than they've ever been," Danish said.

Signal's nonprofit model, the idea goes, will sustain them, and protect its reporters from the omen of layoffs that have seen newsrooms like that of the ABJ's continually shrink.

“Communities depend on independent local journalism to inform them, but newsrooms can’t do that if they are not financially sustainable,” said Jim Brady, vice president of journalism at Knight Foundation, in a press release. Such backing, he added, will "serve residents well into a sustainable future."

Signal Akron will be filling its remaining newsrooms posts in the coming months. It's currently looking to fill positions for a managing editor and a reporter on the safety beat.

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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