Ohio Local News Initiative, led by American Journalism Project, taps local innovator to lead Cleveland newsroom

CLEVELAND — April 19, 2022 — After a five-month open search, the Ohio Local News Initiative, a new nonprofit organization that has raised more than $6 million to serve Ohio, announced today it has hired its founding Cleveland Editor in Chief.

Photo courtesy of Lila Mills; Janet Century Photography

Lila Mills, a bold innovator with a deep connection to Cleveland neighborhoods, will use her experience in community building and journalism to lead the establishment of a newsroom for Greater Cleveland. Currently, Mills is associate director at Neighborhood Connections, a Cleveland-based organization that has done groundbreaking work building and igniting community networks. She led the establishment of Cleveland Documenters, for which she built a team that recruited and trained more than 500 residents to document local public meetings. She was previously a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and advisor to the student newspaper at Cuyahoga Community College.

Along with Mills’s appointment as Editor in Chief, Cleveland Documenters, currently based at Neighborhood Connections and part of City Bureau’s Documenters Network, will become part of the Cleveland newsroom. The move will expand on Documenters’ existing program of training and paying residents to participate in more news gathering, and combine it with a team of editors and beat reporters for an innovative model that brings together the best practices in both. It will incorporate Documenters’ successful community-building practices into the Cleveland newsroom, while maintaining a close connection to Neighborhood Connections and the 3,000-member Neighbor Up network.

“I am so honored by this opportunity to build a newsroom focused on equity and trained in community-building practices,” Mills said. “Our reporting will tell the stories residents care most about, hold decision-makers accountable, and be a primary source of verified information people need for their daily lives, in ways that are accessible to all. Above all else, we will never stop working to build trust with Greater Cleveland communities.”

Mills was hired after a search led by committees of local and industry experts. In addition, a group of resident representatives were invited to ask candidates anything about how they would serve local communities, then asked to make recommendations to the search committee.

Mills will leverage her breadth of experience in community building, public service, and journalism to steward the organization’s vision of giving everyone in Ohio the local news they need, starting in Cleveland. The Cleveland newsroom, which will launch later this year, will produce high-quality accountability journalism while working directly with residents to produce and distribute community reporting that is directly responsive to local information needs.

“Lila is the visionary, service-driven leader Greater Cleveland needs to produce a new kind of independent, high-quality local journalism. The coalition and board are immensely grateful for the work of the search committee and residents who gave their valuable time and input into this process,” said Michael Ouimette, a member of the initiative’s board and senior vice president, Strategy & Startups, at the American Journalism Project, a venture philanthropy dedicated to local news. The American Journalism Project worked with a coalition of Northeast Ohio organizations in 2020 to conduct the information needs research that led to the Ohio Local News Initiative, and is incubating the startup.

“I’m excited to support Lila and promote the development of a model that is going to push the envelope on combining community-centric programs like Documenters with the best beat reporting in the business,” said Henry Gomez, national politics reporter at NBC, who also served on the Editor in Chief search committee. “This organization has the opportunity to set a new standard, and these jobs are some of the best jobs anywhere for journalists who want to do public service and make a difference.”

“Cleveland Documenters has been a shining example within the Documenters Network of communities coming together to support each other and do more journalism that holds local governments accountable,” said Darryl Holliday, co-founder of City Bureau. “We look forward to continuing our work with Lila and seeing how Documenters’ combination with a newsroom of this size and caliber will serve the residents of Greater Cleveland.”

The organization will work in partnership with community radio station WOVU 95.9 FM “Our Voices United,” City Club of Cleveland, community media outlets including the Cleveland Observer, and others to increase the creation, distribution, and accessibility of original reporting in Greater Cleveland.

With its founding Editor in Chief in place, the Ohio Local News Initiative will continue the search for a Chief Executive Officer, and immediately begin hiring for key roles, starting with two newly-posted openings. The Managing Editor, News, will play an integral role in editorial strategy, hire the Cleveland newsroom’s beat reporting team, and lead production of hard-hitting, competitive coverage of local government, economy, health, education, and more. And in another role, the Managing Editor, Community, will be responsible for community engagement and Cleveland Documenters, and work in partnership with the Managing Editor, News, to center the organization’s coverage priorities on community needs. Additional jobs will be posted at localnewsforohio.org/jobs in coming months.

Very special thanks to the Editor in Chief search committee members:

  • Joe Black, Program Officer, Health Equity, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

  • Henry Gomez, Ohio native, longtime Cleveland-area resident, national politics reporter at NBC

  • Karen R. Long, a veteran Cleveland journalist and manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards for the Cleveland Foundation

  • Michael Ouimette, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Startups, American Journalism Project

  • Mizell Stewart III, VP, News Performance, Talent & Partnerships, Gannett / USA TODAY Network

  • Tim Tramble, President & CEO of the Saint Luke’s Foundation and founder of WOVU

  • Doug Ulman, CEO of Pelotonia

And to resident interviewers:

  • Ashley R. Evans, Buckeye Area Community Organizer and Business Consultant

  • Lisanetta McDade, Liaison, Metropolitan Campus Community Relations, Cuyahoga Community College

  • Josiah Britt, Executive Director, CollectivExpress

  • The Reverend Dr. Leah Lewis, J.D.

  • Demetrius Carter, Circular Cleveland Ambassador and Cleveland Central Promise Ambassador

  • Charles Ellenbogen, English Teacher, Campus International High School, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

  • Representative Shayla L. Davis, District 11

  • Bella Sin, Owner, Cleveland Burlesque and Ohio Burlesque

About the Ohio Local News Initiative

The Ohio Local News Initiative is a network of independent, community-led, nonprofit newsrooms, starting in Cleveland, and backed by a coalition of Ohio organizations, community leaders and the American Journalism Project. The coalition, which includes the Cleveland Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, Saint Luke’s Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation, the Visible Voice Charitable Fund, and the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, has raised over $6 million so far in response to research by the American Journalism Project, which found many Cleveland residents do not feel they have adequate, relevant, and accessible information about their communities and the decisions that impact their daily lives. With an anticipated staff of 25, including staff based in Columbus, at launch, the new organization expects to begin publishing later this year and will be one of the largest local nonprofit news startups in the country.

Media inquiries: Tom McGeveran, ohio@theajp.org, 347-205-1216