September Byliner

September 2021
-Denise Polverine with contributions from Bruce Hennes and John Betchkal

As many Press Club members know, the Club’s Hall of Fame has long been housed at Nighttown, a well-known restaurant and jazz club in Cleveland Heights. Former board member, Bruce Hennes shared with me that he came up with the idea years ago when parts and pieces of the Hall of Fame were in a small, rarely visited room at the rear of The City Club of Cleveland. Other pieces were in a few boxes under our longtime administrator Lynn Bracic’s desk in her home office. So, he threw out the idea to the board… why not create a real HOF at Nighttown? Bruce said at the time there were usually at least a couple of writers holding up their end of the bar after work, plus there were about 3,000 people a week walking through the place. Brendan Ring, the owner of Nighttown up until this past January, loved the idea. Bruce said he couldn’t even get the entire first sentence out of his mouth before Brendan said yes. 

According to longtime and current board member, John Betchkal, The Press Club established its Journalism Hall of Fame in 1981 to honor Cleveland’s exceptional journalists. The annual celebration of excellence is now a much anticipated and appreciated event.

The Press Club Hall of Fame is comprised of several hundred plaques featuring each inductee, historical photos, a fantastic mural, and a painting of Fifi LaSalle (more on her later).

So, in 2007, Betchkal said in the same year The Press Club was celebrating its 120th anniversary (Yes! – Now 134 years of advocating for excellence in journalism) the Club’s board agreed to call Nighttown its official home. Since then, one of the best things about having our HOF at Nighttown was spotting a Hall of Famer standing in front of his or her plaque with children and grandchildren around, all sharing in the achievement and recognition.

The future of the HOF’s location became uncertain when in January of this year, Nighttown owner, Brendan Ring announced he was selling his restaurant. The Press Club board held tight while awaiting answers on whether a new owner would want to maintain our presence in the establishment. Eventually, the board decided it would be best to take down the plaques and photos for safe keeping until a decision on ownership could be made. Construction crews were going in and out of the building and we didn’t want to take any chances that the plaques or framed pictures could be inadvertently damaged along the way.
We worked with the building’s managers to pick a Sunday morning in which a team of volunteers from the board removed as many “pieces and parts” as possible. We carefully removed most plaques and photos while leaving some hard-to-remove items there for future professional removal. We also left a copy of a 16-foot oil-based mural of Damon Runyonesque characters gathered on downtown Cleveland’s Short Vincent Avenue and a life-size rendering of burlesque queen Fifi LaSalle until we could figure out what to do with those. The team wrapped each plaque, lovingly packed them in boxes and those items are now being safely stored. 

Betchkal writes that the mural was painted by Cleveland Press artist Bill Roberts and for years it garnered attention hanging behind the bar at Kornman’s restaurant on East Ninth Street before moving to Nighttown. The original mural resides at the Western Reserve Historical Society in a trust held by fabled Cleveland photographer Tim Ryan.

Where we are now:

Earlier this month, Nighttown’s new management team was announced. It will be operated by Gregg Levy and his group from Red the Steakhouse. I have been talking with Levy and the building’s owners and there is every indication they would like to retain The Press Club Hall of Fame at Nighttown and make it better than ever.

The board, though, has a job to do. Many plaques are worn and illegible. We are deciding whether to replace them or hang onto them but offer a new display of some sort. There are many ideas being discussed. Please feel free to contact me at if you have any suggestions we should consider. We need to see how much space the HOF would be given and what the new owner’s plans are.

We will keep updating you on our plans for the Hall of Fame display. It’s extremely important to our Club and its history.

And Fifi? Well, I’m not sure exactly how an old, large painting depicting a Cleveland burlesque star with reporters surrounding her, fits into the Press Club Hall of Fame. Maybe she doesn’t make it into the future with us or maybe she stays. It’s certainly a talker. I didn’t want to like it for all the obvious reasons, but it’s a fascinating replication of that slice in time. Well, we’ll decide that with your input along the way.

Stay in touch, because we’re hoping The Press Club members, the on-the-wall Hall of Famers, the characters from Short Vincent and maybe even Fifi will soon be together again at Nighttown.
Induction banquet scheduled for March 2022 
The Press Club of Cleveland is planning to present the next Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame induction and Chuck Heaton Award presentation on March 3, 2022. Venue details are being finalized and will be announced soon.

After much discussion, the Hall of Fame Committee and Press Club Board of Directors decided last year to cancel the 2020 program because of the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, they agreed that delaying the 2021 event until early 2022 would allow additional time for the pandemic to slow.

Nominations will be accepted until Nov. 15 for the next Journalism Hall of Fame class and candidates for the Chuck Heaton Award. 
Press Club members should submit nominations by email to Please indicate Hall of Fame or Heaton Award in the subject line. Also, include the nominee’s name, email address, phone number, the media outlet the person is/was affiliated with and a brief description of why he or she should be considered for the Hall of Fame or Heaton Award. In addition, nominators should include their name, email address and phone number. 

Questions? Contact Carol Kovach at or call the Press Club office, 440-899-1222.

The Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame, established in 1981, recognizes the accomplishments of journalists across all platforms who have made a significant contribution to the profession. 

The Chuck Heaton Award, created in 2008, is bestowed upon the print, radio, online or television journalist who best exemplifies the sensitivity and humility that, along with his journalistic talents, were traits exhibited by the late Chuck Heaton during his exemplary career as a sports writer with The Plain Dealer. Heaton, a 50-year PD reporter, was inducted into The Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame in 1992. He died in 2008.
James Sheeler, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper reporter and journalism professor at Case Western Reserve University, died on Sept. 17 at his Chagrin Falls home. Jim was 53. 

He leaves a legacy of sensitive, penetrating reporting and writing. And he leaves a legion of journalism colleagues, students and fans who mourned his passing. 

“I always imagined that giants were, well, gigantic,” novelist, journalist and Case professor Thrity Umrigar wrote on Facebook. “Deep, loud voices, heavy footprints, the earth thundering when they walked. My friend and colleague James Sheeler was a different kind of giant. He was slight of build and boyishly handsome. A lock of hair always fell onto his forehead. His voice contained a slight tremor and his hands sometimes shook. He walked lightly upon this earth. He could slip into a crowded room unnoticed. He vibrated with a low, quiet energy at all times. But Jim had a superpower: Niceness. He was quite simply the nicest guy in the world. You could maybe define that superpower in other ways. You could call it kindness. You could call it humanity. You could call it a bottomless desire to help others.”

In 2006, Jim won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Final Salute,” the story he wrote for the Rocky Mountain News, where he worked from 2004 to the Rocky’s closing in 2009. Jim spent a year with a Marine major whose job was to help and comfort the families of comrades killed in Iraq.

That story later turned into the book “Final Salute,” a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for nonfiction.  

Those works were the culmination of a career-long fascination with telling the untold stories of otherwise unknown people through obituaries – too often a task once used as punishment or training in newsrooms and now in too many newsrooms a lost art. 

The Washington Post wrote in a tribute after his death: “For Mr. Sheeler, the assignment was far from a chore. As he leafed through death notices faxed by local funeral homes, typing out obituaries for the Boulder Planet in Colorado, certain details would catch his eye. “There was one in particular that listed the woman’s occupation: florist and butcher,” he said. “I loved that, and I thought: ‘I wish I would have known her. I wish I could have written about her.’ And then I realized I still could.”

“Over the next few years, Mr. Sheeler wrote evocative, richly detailed obits of farmers, ranchers, magicians, restaurateurs — preferably anyone whose name had never appeared in print. Combining a lean, understated prose style with an insistence on patient, in-person reporting, he helped shake up the traditional obituary form and established himself as one of the country’s leading chroniclers of ordinary people.”
Jim also had close ties to the Press Club of Cleveland. He was a member and supporter. Past President Thom Fladung filled in on his Case class one semester when Jim was on sabbatical. Current President Denise Polverine also stepped in to teach Jim’s class – and now has been asked to do so again.
In 2010, Jim joined Case as the Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing. He inspired students with his journalism marching orders: “Tell me a story.”

CWRU’s The Daily captured some of those students’ deep affection and appreciation: “I can confidently say I wouldn’t be a journalist if it wasn’t for Jim Sheeler,” wrote 2016 CWRU graduate Anne Nickoloff, now a reporter at “…I was full of self-doubt – but Jim’s enthusiasm and encouragement helped me believe in myself.”

Jim is survived by his wife, Annick, and their son, James. At this writing a cause of death has not been determined. 

Even on his Twitter account, Jim showed his spare, impactful writing style – and provided a lesson for all journalists: “Still a reporter,” he wrote in his description. “Still learning.” 

-Toledo Blade politics reporter Liz Skalka has taken a job with the HuffPost politics team, which will eventually take her to Washington D.C. to cover Republicans in Congress. 
-Crain’s Cleveland Business sports reporter Kevin Kleps has taken a job with Hyland Software, concluding an eight-year run owning one of the more original and popular beats in town. 
-Following a vote by Kent State University’s Board of Trustees, the public radio station WKSU will merge with Cleveland’s Ideastream. The merger is expected to be completed by Oct. 1. 
-Akron Devil Strip founder Chris Horne is taking a sabbatical from the publication. 
-Cleveland Magazine editor Kim Schneider has taken a job at the Cleveland Clinic.  

-The Washington Post announces that it will hire 41 new editors to expand opportunities for existing staff and journalists of color while creating a true 24/7 newsroom.
-Rolling Stone taps Daily Beast editor Noah Schactman as new Editor in Chief, hoping he’ll re-energize the music glossy as a digital-first publication. 
-The story of the suspicious Ozy conference call with Goldman Sachs. 

-The gunman who killed five journalists at the Annapolis Star Gazette has received five life sentences without the possibility of parole. 
Brian Bardwell
Speech Law LLC

Ed Byers
Retired Medical Mutual
Stephanie Czekalinski

Joyce Schwarz

Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative (NEO SoJo) is looking for several good editors
 Our collaborative is looking for a team of part-time professional editors, who can edit solutions journalism stories that will be shared by 19 different local newsrooms in the Cleveland and Akron area. Please apply to by October 15, 2021 with a cover letter and a resume.
Editors can expect to work remotely on stories about jobs, rent or transportation, every other week or so, so this is not steady work. Many of these stories will tackle problems in our area and possible solutions, hence the name solutions journalism. Those solutions must be evidence-based, be effective and have clearly outlined limitations. Here’s our website -
These freelance editors will make sure that solutions stories meet the above requirements and that all stories are accurate, informative, engaging and of course, grammatically correct. The editors can also expect to work with emerging reporters who will need strong reporting and editing guidance as they work on their stories. 
 Skills needed
  •  Proven working experience as an editor and ability to work with a team of news partners
  •  Understanding of the principles of solutions journalism -- we will hold a tutorial
  •  Strong writing/editing/proofreading skills and an excellent portfolio
  •  Hands on experience with Google Docs
  •  Ability to write strong, eye-catching headlines and help writers write strong Twitter/Facebook posts.
  •  Excellent written skills in English
  •  An eye for detail along with critical thinking
  •  Prioritizing and multitasking
  • BA degree in Journalism or in related field

In continuous operation since 1887, The Press Club of Cleveland is a home for working journalists, professional communicators and anyone who supports the media’s role to keep watch over democratic processes. We advocate for the importance of journalism; maintain the rich history of journalism in Northeast Ohio; recognize excellence in the field with the All-Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards and the Press Club Hall of Fame; and host programs that bring members together for education, networking and comradery. 
We offer pro-rated membership fees, special rates for young practitioners, and members receive discounts on Press Club events and entry fees in our statewide awards program. Learn more about the benefits of membership here

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