Finding a Path to Equity: Media’s Role in Advocating for Cleveland’s Youth




The City Club of Cleveland co-hosted the Schubert Center for Child Studies’ 2nd annual Kessler-Freedheim Address as part of the center’s 20th anniversary event, “Cleveland: A Community Committed to Our Children” on April 27, 2018. The address titled, “Finding a Path to Equity: Media’s Role in Advocating for Cleveland’s Youth” was introduced by CWRU Provost, Bud Baeslack, and John Schubert. The City Club Youth Forum Council Chair, TiOlu Oresanya, expertly moderated the panel which included Leila Atassi, Reporter at, Margaret Bernstein, Director of Advocacy and Community Initiatives at WKYC, and Rachel Dissell, Reporter at The Plain Dealer. 

Over the last several years, the percentage of Cleveland’s children living in poverty has increased steadily. The barriers faced by these children and their families are enormous – especially for those whose poverty spans multiple generations. While many state and local organizations have put forth concerted efforts to assist children, it’s often not enough.

Recently, print and television media have prioritized stories about the plight of poor children and urged the community to collaborate to take action. In 2016, several reporters at the Plain Dealer contributed to a series “Pathways to Peace” which looked at youth violence. After noticing an uptick in violence, solutions were sought from around the country to help inform Cleveland’s approach to the issue. However, reporter Rachel Dissell said there was something really vital missing from that series: True youth voice.

This realization has led to the incorporation of youth voice in not only telling their stories, but telling media what the issues really are. This can be seen through “A Greater Cleveland” series on, “Dear Cleveland” series in the Plain Dealer, and increased partnerships at WKYC. Panelists agreed that increases to equity would not take place without listening to and telling the stories of young people. But it can’t just stop there. With newsrooms disproportionately white and suburban, there needs to be a nurturing of youth to grow and move into media positions. Bernstein sees one way to accomplish this is through activities such as mentoring of students in the school across the street from WKYC and working to increase literacy throughout the city.

How do we increase the trust between youth and media? Panelists discussed how staying true to the stories being told is vital in building and rebuilding trust between the public and the media. Atassi believes that the communities where “A Greater Cleveland” is taking place have been strong supporters of the series because their voices are being heard. Dissell adds that the media should avoid parachuting into a community for a rapid or sensational story and should provide stories that represent the positives in a neighborhood.

The media is trained to provide an objective view on a situation and report the facts, but is there more that it can be doing to actually alleviate equity issues that it reports on? The voices should not just be heard, but connected to what needs to be in place to solve the issues.

Watch the full panel discussion above.