A focus on what matters

The Compass Experiment
4 min readOct 10, 2019


Just 40 days after the end of Youngstown’s newspaper, we’re launching a new beginning at Mahoning Matters

Mahoning Matters reporter Jess Hardin interviews a United Auto Workers picketer at the Lordstown General Motors assembly plant. (Photo/Robert K. Yosay)

The launch of Mahoning Matters this week came exactly 40 days after the last of the old Youngstown Vindicator rolled off of its now-silenced press.

Back then, what was known as the Compass Experiment Youngstown was in its infancy; the brainchild of such forward-thinking media minds like General Manager Mandy Jenkins.

Jenkins and the team at McClatchy and partners at Google wanted to launch the first of three such Compass projects where it would have immediate impact. The announced death of the 150-year-old Vindicator on June 28 provided such an opportunity.

From virtually nothing, we now have a staff, a website, even billboards and T-shirts.

The fear that Youngstown might become the largest U.S. city isolated in a news desert turned out to be motivation for others, too. The Ogden Newspaper chain which publishes the Warren, Ohio Tribune-Chronicle bought the rights to The Vindicator nameplate, route lists and web domain just as the Vindy closed. A “Vindicator edition” was published the Monday after the Youngstown newspaper closed, staffed by five of the former newspaper’s ex-pats.

The two top TV stations in town — WKBN and WFMJ — both increased online staff to attempt to replicate the audience of a daily newspaper with the top website in the Mahoning Valley.

The Youngstown Business Journal was chosen by ProPublica for an investigative project and also expanded its coverage to include entertainment. They, too, hired other former Vindicator staff members.

Still, in the Compass Experiment pre-launch meetings and town halls, it became increasingly clear that news consumers in the Mahoning Valley didn’t just want “more.” They wanted “other.”

And “deep.”

Time after time these keywords came up: Transparent. Fair. Responsive. Accessible. Collaborative. Unbiased. Investigative. Impactful.

What was emerging in the aftermath of the fall of The Vindicator was an audience seeking solution-based journalism. As the remaining media chose their lanes, Mahoning Matters began to fashion it’s own.

I won’t be the latest to opine on the changing media landscape. Others have and will continue to do so far more effectively. But news consumers are evolving frankly faster than media organizations are evolving and while that creates challenges, it also presents opportunities.

Mark Sweetwood, Justin Dennis and Jess Hardin at the Boardman Optimist’s Annual Political and Celebrity Chili Cook-Off on October 2. (Photo/Julie Westfall)

Here’s how I explained it a few weeks ago to a Valley resident trying to figure out how Mahoning Matters would fit in the market: The old Youngstown Vindicator was the happy meal of news — robust in print, online and social media. Your fries, drink, burger, cookie and maybe a toy, if you will. That model of one-stop shopping is proving to be less and less sustainable. So, news, out of habit and often out of necessity, is becoming a la carte. In that reality is where Mahoning Matters finds itself.

By not following the pack mentality, by not being the fifth media organization to cover a minor car crash, by building sustainability into our DNA, by actively engaging the audience, we aim to make a difference with journalism that matters. Our focus is not just on the “whats.” As often as possible, we’ll focus on the “hows” and “whys.” In our details, we hope to empower our audience.

Our name reflects both what we’ll cover and what we believe: The Mahoning Valley matters. Youngstown matters. Local news matters.

This week we’re off to a big start as we detail the plight of workers trying to maintain their homes here and in new communities they were sent to after the closing of the GM Lordstown plant. A lot of families are hurting. We also take a look at the businesses that have had mixed reviews from Mahoning County health inspectors and give the businesses a chance to rebut reports that detail some real and potential problems.

So take a look at Mahoning Matters or join our email list. Give myself, reporters Justin Dennis and Jess Hardin — both were colleagues at The Vindicator — some feedback and watch as we grow and learn while we inform.

Mark Sweetwood is a 37-year media veteran and an adjunct professor at Youngstown State University. He is the editor of Mahoning Matters, part of The Compass Experiment.

The Compass Experiment is a local news laboratory founded by McClatchy and Google and is part of Google’s Local Experiments Project.