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Two new nonprofit newsrooms in Cleveland name their editors-in-chief

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Crutchfield photo by Ken Love Photography, courtesy of The Marshall Project
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Mills photo by Janet Century Photography courtesy of Ohio Local News Initiative
The Marshall Project announced Tuesday that Jim Crutchfield (left) will serve as editor-in-chief of its Cleveland newsroom. Lila Mills has been chosen as Cleveland editor-in-chief of the Ohio Local News Initiative.

Updated: 4:07 p.m., Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Two new nonprofit newsrooms that will cover criminal justice and community issues in Cleveland have named their editors-in-chief.

The Marshall Project has announced that longtime journalist Jim Crutchfield will lead its news operation in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Ohio Local News Initiative named Lila Mills as its Cleveland editor-in-chief.

Mills is associate director at the community group Neighborhood Connections and helped build the Cleveland Documenters, which trained hundreds of residents to document local public meetings.

The news initiative, funded by the Cleveland Foundation, was announced in November with a goal of hiring local residents to report on community issues. Along with Mills being named editor-in-chief on Tuesday, the Ohio Local News Initiative also stated that the Cleveland Documenters and its community-building practices will become part of the Cleveland newsroom.

I love the Documenters community, and I've just been so thrilled to be part of that work these last two years," Mills told Ideastream Public Media. "People are just curious and brave, putting themselves out there and doing this work. And so to have the opportunity to have, you know, this support and this investment in taking that work even further and building a newsroom around that work, it's pretty amazing.”

Research that showed the community’s desire for “basic information of what’s happening in the community," is at the heart of what led to this newsroom, Mills said. Coverage areas will include topics such as education and government, but Mills said they’ll have a different, more community-based approach as compared to a traditional newsroom, where a reporter pitches an idea to an editor, and ultimately, a decision is made there.

“We might say to the reporter or the editor might say to the reporter, ‘OK, take that back to the community. Tease out that idea in conversation with community members and then begin to follow it,'" Mills said. 

The Ohio Local News Initiative is currently searching for a chief executive officer and will begin the hiring process for a managing editor for news and a managing editor responsible for community engagement and Cleveland Documenters.

Crutchfield comes to The Marshall Project Cleveland operation with five decades of journalism experience. He started his career as a journalist in Pittsburgh. During his career, he’s served as executive editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram and deputy managing editor for the Detroit Free Press. From 2001 to 2006, he was the publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Joining The Marshall Project is “like unfinished business,” Crutchfield said.

“Early in my career, I was a courthouse reporter," Crutchfield told Ideastream Public Media. "I covered the criminal courts and you know how it is. You leave and do something else and you feel like there's still stories to write."

Crutchfield added that focusing on criminal justice is critically important.

"Our criminal justice system needs work. We know that. Everybody knows that, no matter which side of it you're on. And so, that’s why it's special to me,” Crutchfield said.

The Marshall Project’s newsroom in Cleveland is supported by the Gund Foundation. It will be reporting on and exposing abuses in Cuyahoga County's criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s first investigative project in Cleveland, "Testify," analyzed court records and voting patterns to explore the "lopsided" outcomes in Cuyahoga County’s court system – including why 75% of incarcerated people in the county are Black.

Jenny Hamel is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media and calls the eastside of Cleveland home. Prior to that, she was a reporter for KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Los Angeles, covering a range of issues from immigration to politics.