Opening The Observer

The Observer makes no political endorsements

The Heights Observer is published by FutureHeights, a community-building organization with 501(c)(3) status, which means that the IRS recognizes it as not-for-profit/tax-exempt. As such, neither FutureHeights nor the Observer are permitted to endorse any individuals running for public office.

I mention it now because with municipal elections coming early next month, it is the time when many civic-minded people and groups choose to express their opinions about candidates. The Observer, in its role as a forum for sharing information about the community, welcomes the opportunity to publish those opinions.

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Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 10:53 PM, 09.26.2011

What's wrong with the police blotter

Here’s the answer to a question that, to my knowledge, nobody has asked: Why doesn’t the Heights Observer run police blotter items?

The police blotter is a series of one- or two-sentence media reports on arrests and other activities by local police. When reported in the news, a blotter item looks like this:

Theft: An Elm Street man reported his 2001 Chrysler broken into sometime between 6 p.m., Aug. 20, and 8 a.m., Aug. 21. His iPod and connector were taken along with his wallet containing, among other things, his driver’s license and a debit card. The man had left his car unlocked.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 11:56 AM, 09.01.2011

Volunteer committee sought for new Observer forum

The Heights Observer exists to provide information and air issues of interest to anyone who lives and works in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. With a print newspaper, an e-mail newsletter, a website and a collection of blogs, it is missing one vital element: an online forum where people can fluidly discuss topics of their choice.

We initially launched a forum four years ago—when we began publishing the paper. But that forum never achieved the critical mass to take on a life of its own, and participation dwindled. We recently took it offline.

I don't know precisely why the forum failed to fly the way it has in other communities. But when I’ve asked people why they stopped using it, their answers all fall in among the following themes:

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 12:09 PM, 08.02.2011

Observer policy on information from candidates

In November, four seats on the Cleveland Heights City Council and four seats in University Heights come up for election.

The Heights Observer does not make endorsements or recommendations. We do, however, make it easy for anyone in the community to publish his or her opinions on issues and candidates. If you have something to say, please go to the Heights Observer Member Center (, register as a user, and start contributing.

Contributors may include the candidates themselves, a number of whom—since our founding four years ago—have used the Observer’s editorial and advertising opportunities as a strategic cornerstone of their campaigns.

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Volume 4, Issue 7, Posted 2:02 PM, 06.30.2011

An ad that may raise some eyebrows

This issue of the Heights Observer contains an ad that is likely to raise some eyebrows in the community. You can’t miss it; it’s the largest ad we’ve ever run.

The advertiser is First Interstate Properties, the Lyndhurst-based development company that’s planning to develop the former Oakwood Club property in South Euclid and, later, Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 10:34 AM, 05.03.2011

Celebrating our 4th anniversary

This month, the Heights Observer begins its fourth year of publication. It’s an underfunded, seat-of-the-pants community news organization managed essentially by one staff person, compiled by a few dozen regular volunteers, and written by contributors numbering in the hundreds.

Considering all that, I’m not only impressed by the impact it seems to have, I’m also amazed that it comes out month after month. The Heights Observer is clearly getting stronger.

Our first issue ran 16 pages and had 10 advertisers. This issue—our largest to date—consists of 24 pages supported by more than 50 display advertisers (not including classifieds).

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Volume 4, Issue 4, Posted 10:53 AM, 04.05.2011

More ways than ever to use the Observer

After three years, the regular operations of the Heights Observer newspaper are running as smoothly as you can expect for an all-volunteer publication. But news happens more than once a month.

So we’ve turned our attention to other ways of providing a full, flexible and timely platform for the discussion of issues that are important in University Heights and Cleveland Heights.

In January, we started posting news to the Observer website ( on a daily basis. Now you no longer have to wait until the beginning of next month to find out what’s been happening.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 10:27 AM, 03.01.2011

Heights Observer is now on Twitter

The Heights Observer is now on We started Tweeting in early February, and send out messages when new stories go online, or if we stumble across anything of local interest to Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 11:28 AM, 02.04.2011

Heights Observer seeks bloggers

Is there a blogger in you waiting to get out? Can you write with insight and passion about Cleveland Heights and/or University Heights?

The new Heights Observer/Blogs is looking for people to offer regular commentary, analysis and musings on the people, places and events that define the Heights.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 10:54 AM, 02.04.2011

The real truth about how we work

At a party not long ago, I met a woman who, after hearing my name, said, "I want to get involved with the Observer."

"That would be great," I replied.

"There are all sorts of things that go on here that people ought to know," she said, waving her arms, "and I’m not afraid to say any of it."

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 11:24 AM, 01.17.2011

Opening up the Observer

The Heights Observer is happy to accept and publish letters to the editor.

We don’t get very many of them. Maybe that’s because letters to the editor usually represent the only way an ordinary resident can contribute to a newspaper. But the Observer’s articles and columns are also written by residents, and with so many ways to contribute, letters may somehow seem unnecessary.

But they have an important role. Letters represent the community dialogue that the Observer and its parent organization, FutureHeights, seek to encourage.

News articles and opinion pieces don’t really count as a conversation until someone else responds. That’s the purpose of letters.

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Volume 3, Issue 12, Posted 11:12 AM, 11.23.2010

New online directory puts focus on Heights businesses

We’re pleased to announce that the Observer has launched the only online business directory dedicated to Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

Offering listings from accountants to variety stores and everything in between, the directory is one more way the Observer facilitates the connection between residents and the businesses that serve them.

The directory is available through a link in the left-hand menu at, the Heights Observer website.

It has been launched in support of the new Heights Independent Business Alliance (HIBA), of which I’ve written before. HIBA was founded with urging from the Observer’s nonprofit owner, FutureHeights, to help keep local, independently owned businesses foremost in the minds of residents.

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Volume 3, Issue 11, Posted 4:08 PM, 10.27.2010

Opening Up the Observer

There are two noteworthy events related to the Observer this month.

First is the FutureHeights Auction. It’s one of the primary fundraisers for the organization that produces the Observer each month. FutureHeights is all about civic engagement, and the Observer is its largest project–giving voice to anyone who wants to lead or participate in dialogue about the community.

The auction is conducted online, so you don’t need to dress up or put on a party smile. The bidding runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 21, at If you appreciate the Observer, then please support FutureHeights and the auction. There’s some neat stuff to bid on, as well.

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Volume 3, Issue 10, Posted 7:18 AM, 09.29.2010

Workshops for becoming a true Observer

The Heights Observer, published by FutureHeights, is about engagement: helping to keep residents of University Heights and Cleveland Heights informed, and providing a platform to actively share information about community issues and organizations.

It’s a chicken-and-egg proposition: The greater the engagement, the more contributions the Observer receives—and the better informed people will be.

I observe two common barriers to this process:

  1. People don’t want to take the time.
  2. People don’t know how, or don’t feel qualified, to contribute.

There’s not much the Observer can do about the first barrier, except perhaps to convince people that sharing their knowledge doesn’t take a lot of time. We’re addressing that, and tackling the second barrier in depth with a series of Tuesday-evening workshops to help residents figure out what, and how, to contribute information to the Observer.

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Volume 3, Issue 9, Posted 10:55 AM, 08.23.2010

Opening up the Observer: It's a soapbox, not the soap

Retailers spend the year preparing for the holiday shopping season. For accountants, the big month is April. For newspapers, it’s whenever there is a major election–which is how I’d classify the selection of Cuyahoga County’s first county executive and its new 11-member council.

The election is in two parts: a partisan primary on Sept. 7, and the general election Nov. 2. Voters will cast two ballots – one for the county executive, and another for a single district representative. Cleveland Heights is in District 10; University Heights is in District 11.

As an entity that relies almost solely on submissions from community members, we’re not covering the election like a traditional newspaper, which would present a “comprehensive package” of interviews and insights on every candidate.

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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 4:12 PM, 07.28.2010

Opening up the Observer: local businesses team up


When in the course of human events, it becomes appropriate for communities to assert their independence, to denounce uniformity and celebrate their uniqueness, a respect for freedom and human creativity requires independent businesses and peoples to declare those elements which make them interesting.

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Volume 3, Issue 7, Posted 4:10 PM, 06.30.2010

Opening up the Observer

I find myself on a lot of unofficial e-mail lists. Like the one that circulates around my neighborhood sharing information about break-ins and other crimes that arrive in occasional dispiriting spurts. Or the list of concerned parents weighing in on proposed changes in the way the middle schools are scheduled. Or the list of ideas for preserving 140 acres of green space that started soon after Oakwood Country Club went under.

Some of these lists are small—15 or 20 people. Others consist of a close circle of people who are likely to share similar viewpoints, because what’s more gratifying than a one-sided debate?
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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 11:35 PM, 05.24.2010

Opening up the Observer

The good news is the bad news: The Observer now receives many more contributions each month than the print edition can hold.

Until now, that situation has been handled by trying to prioritize the importance of each submission, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that they’re all important. And editors are instructed to cut large portions from dozens of stories to fit the available space.

Such cutting has been a necessary evil as contributions have continued to multiply, but it isn’t an acceptable long-term approach. It’s tough on the writers, who feel their hard work is being disrespected; it’s tough on the editors, because cutting stories by half or two-thirds is difficult and unpleasant. It’s also tough on the readers and the story subjects, because the nuance of the information can get lost.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 1:18 PM, 04.25.2010

An anniversary gift of research

This issue marks the second anniversary of the Heights Observer.

A few months ago, working with two marketing classes at John Carroll University, the Observer conducted a readership survey. Here are some highlights of what we learned from the 172 respondents.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 4:04 PM, 03.23.2010

In support of local businesses

One reason FutureHeights launched the Heights Observer was to encourage community dialogue and engagement among Heights residents—engagement with the local government, community and businesses. Another reason was to serve those businesses.

The local commercial base is a big part of what gives the Heights its unique character. By helping those businesses thrive, the thinking goes, FutureHeights helps maintain the community’s charm.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, Posted 11:53 AM, 02.21.2010

How to get your agenda covered

For those who have been most involved in producing the Heights Observer, one frustration arises every month: Readers have a lot of great suggestions for topics we should cover, and we want to pursue them.

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Volume 3, Issue 1, Posted 12:11 PM, 02.21.2010