I spent a fair amount of time earlier this year digging through Scene's archives as we began planning our upcoming 50th anniversary in July.
The past five decades have seen considerable upheaval in the industry and in the city, but ever since that first issue on July 1, 1970, Scene has been there. Through recessions and double-digit inflation, through the crushing economic blows dealt by Craigslist and Google and Facebook, Scene survived, fighting (and winning) heavyweight fights while stepping into the ring as a middleweight, and, in recent times, something resembling more a welterweight, if you catch us in the right light.
It hasn't been easy. But we’re still here, and along the way Scene became the oldest continually operating altweekly left standing in America.
And then came the pandemic, which swiftly and efficiently wiped out almost all sources of revenue. Gone were the print ads, and gone were events like Ale Fest that subsidized our journalism habit.
In March, Scene was forced to suspend print operations and lay off more than half of our small but scrappy staff, including production manager Steve Miluch, who's been laying out our pages since those heady days of the 1970s, and Jeff Niesel, our intrepid, long-time music editor.
Two months later, we are fighting for our lives.
So we're asking you to help us survive, to help us do the labor-intensive work for reporting and storytelling that you won't find anywhere else.
We are launching the Scene Press Club
today, hoping to claw our way through the crisis with your help. Over the next six weeks, we hope to raise $50,000 so that Scene can make it not only to its 50th anniversary but far beyond. On the other side of All Of This, we want to rehire staff, get that paper back on the street and replenish a freelance budget to help us do what we've always done — tell the important stories of Cleveland.
Maybe you come to us for Doug Trattner's comprehensive coverage of the dining scene, or to learn about every nook and cranny of the city's diverse music landscape, or to scope out what to do with your weekend.
Maybe you come for Sam Allard's coverage of City Council. Maybe you come to find out whether the mayor is showing up to work.
Maybe you come for longform stories that have led directly to the exoneration of men after decades of wrongful imprisonment, stories that broke coverups at the Cleveland Museum of Art, illuminated malfeasance at the United Way, shined a light on the history of black rollerskating in Cleveland, uncovered allegations of an international abuse scandal tied to a Hudson megachurch, or reminded readers just what could be done with Burke airport.
Maybe, unlike some of our family members, you think we're funny. Maybe, like some of our family members, you think we're rude.
Whatever you come for, I can't imagine Cleveland without Scene, and I'm betting a lot of you feel the same way.
Joining the Scene Press Club
will help ensure we stick around, which is good for readers and bad for the leaders and institutions who fail you.
When Scene celebrated its 15th anniversary in June 1985, then-mayor George Voinovich wrote a letter of support.
"Congratulations on your magnificent contributions not only to the field of journalism and your readers but to the community-at-large," it read.
Over the years, Scene founder Richard Kabat had noted with pride that the paper had come a long way since its founding in 1970 — from an underground entertainment outfit filled with miscreants to the taste-makers of the music landscape (still staffed by miscreants) who were breaking national artists and partying with rock stars at Swingos to, finally, an institution recognized and celebrated with mayoral photo ops at City Hall.
We get asked a fair amount why we work at Scene, the rag that fights for space in the birdcage with Auto Trader. Independent local journalism is fiercely important, is the simple and honest answer. With the demolition of dozens of jobs at the Plain Dealer fresh in the rearview, Cleveland needs it now more than ever, but it also specifically needs independent local altweekly journalism.
The New Republic rightly called altweeklies a staunch example of the rude press, one whose defining quality is "skepticism about power and a refusal to respect the niceties that power depends on to disguise itself and maintain its dominance."
That Scene has provided Cleveland that — in addition to mining the local concert scene, telling you about the best places to eat, and publishing Christine Howey’s authoritative theater criticism— is among the things for which I'm most proud.
Partially because of our reporting over the years, when Scene turns 50 in July, there will be no photo op at City Hall, no congratulatory letter from Mayor Frank Jackson.
If that means as much to you as it does to me, I hope you consider helping us out by becoming a member
so that we're around to report on the next mayor too.