Crain’s Cleveland Business

February 22, 2023

Knight putting $5 million into new Signal Akron news outlet

Akron has a lot of news, but not enough reporters to tell people about it. But that might be about to change.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which got its start in Akron as the birthplace of the Knight family’s newspaper empire, is investing $5 million in Signal Akron.

The new nonprofit digital news outlet is meant to “help strengthen local news and civic information in Northeast Ohio,” Knight said in a news release on Wednesday, Feb. 22. It said Signal Akron will be part of Signal Ohio, which recently launched its first newsroom in Cleveland.

“Akron has needed more local news sources for a long time, but the crisis has become more severe in the past few years,” said Jim Brady, vice president of journalism at Knight.

The Akron Beacon Journal, for instance, has gone from a staff of hundreds of reporters and editors to one that is a shadow its former self. The Beacon, long a vaunted paper nationally and the winner of four Pulitzer Prizes between 1968 and 1994, reported it had 197 members of the Newspaper Guild on staff when its first big layoffs took effect in 2001. Today, the paper’s online staff page lists 31 reporters and editors on staff, and eight of those are devoted to covering sports.

Knight hopes a new Signal newsroom can help. It said the $5 million investment over five years will be combined with investments from a growing coalition of local supporters, including the Akron Community Foundation, the GAR Foundation, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the Greater Akron Chamber, Huntington Bank, United Way of Summit & Medina, the University of Akron Foundation and Welty Building Co.

Knight reports that Signal Akron will hire at least 11 staff members with the new money. It’s conducting a search for an editor-in-chief.

The newsroom “will be representative of the Akron communities it serves, and lower barriers to access by offering its content digitally, free, and across multiple formats.” Knight stated.

Signal Akron will work alongside other Signal news desks in a statewide network that will have a centralized business and operations team responsible for growing and sustaining programs around the state, while local journalists do the reporting, according to Knight.

Knight hopes Signal Akron will build on what the foundation said has been a successful start to Signal Cleveland, which was launched last fall with $7.5 million in national and local donor funding.

Debra Adams Simmons, a former editor of the Beacon Journal and a member of Signal Ohio’s board of directors, said in a statement that the investment in journalism in Akron “is fantastic news.” She added, “More reporters on the ground strengthen the local news ecosystem and help meet the information needs of Akron’s residents.”

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