Brave. That’s the word that kept entering my mind as about 75 people watched a special screening of the documentary “I Am Evidence” Tuesday night.

On the screen, women ignored by our criminal justice system spoke painfully about undergoing rape kit exams only to have police nationwide put the evidence in storage. When the kits were finally tested, many produced direct hits to the DNA samples of suspects collected by police years and decades earlier, with a shocking number of perpetrators being connected to multiple rapes.

Those in the audience at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, likely including survivors with similar difficult memories, watched in silence as advocates worked to deliver justice in a few cases, including a serial rapist who could have been stopped earlier in Cuyahoga County.

The special screening was the idea of Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reporter Amanda Garrett, who has been covering new efforts by the Akron Police Department to clear hundreds of cold sexual assault cases. She updated the team’s efforts in last Sunday’s edition, detailing how one suspect now has been tied to 18 rapes in Northeast Ohio.

After the screening, members of the new Akron Sexual Assault Kit Initiative team took some tough questions from audience members, who wanted to know what steps are being taken by Akron police to ensure evidence collected today gets tested quickly. They were joined by advocates from the Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina Counties, the Victim Assistance Program and others to provide support for attendees as needed.

We’re grateful to everyone who took time to attend the screening. I certainly walked away with a far deeper understanding of how the system failed so many women.

 

Catching up

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been four months since I became editor of the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com.

It’s been a whirlwind of changing routines, getting to know our team of outstanding journalists and becoming better acquainted with people and issues across the Akron region. Toss in two sons graduating from college and high school along with a long-planned family trip and time is really flying fast.

So fast that this is only my second column, which I intend to rectify going forward.

One of my early goals was to improve our local news reporting by filling some coverage voids on key topics and suburbs.

We’ve hired one new reporter, Jennifer Pignolet, to handle education reporting for Akron Public Schools, the University of Akron and major education issues impacting all schools. We’ve reassigned a former page designer, Alan Ashworth, to handle reporting in the south suburbs, including Barberton and Norton among others. Reporter Emily Mills also has shifted her focus to our western suburbs and Summit County Council.

The result has been a clear uptick in the number of local stories we believe matter to you most. In addition, Jeff Lange joined our team as a staff photographer after handling a myriad of freelance assignments for us the past several years.

We’re now studying which topics you want us to cover the most thoroughly by reviewing demographics, market information and data showing what’s read the most on Ohio.com.

We have real-time access to which stories generate not only the most views, but also the most engaged reading time, which measures both the popularity of an article and how well it holds a reader’s attention.

We’ve learned that coverage of Chapel Hill Mall generates intense interest, as did a recent story on Donzell’s Garden Center closing. We also know certain less-exciting stories on government meetings don’t generate as much interest.

In the end, we’re trying to balance our time between routine stories you expect and investing more time in higher impact stories.

 

Editor coffee meetings

One way for me to better connect with readers involves holding informal opportunities for us to discuss what’s happening in the community and our local journalism. So, I plan to host periodic coffee chats at different locations throughout Summit County on at least a monthly basis.

Our first gathering will be at 8 a.m. July 18 at Nervous Dog Coffee Bar, 1530 W. Market St., Akron. The second will be at 11 a.m. Aug. 5 at Compass Coffee at The Well CDC, 647 E. Market St. There’s no need to RSVP. Just show up ready to chat about community issues, the newspaper or anything on your mind. We’ll buy the coffee.

 

Of note

I’m scheduled to appear Monday on the "Forum 360" program with host Leslie Ungar that airs on Western Reserve PBS/Fusion channel 45/49 with broadcasts at 8 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m. Saturday. The show also airs on Hudson cable at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. July 7. It’s also on WONE-FM (97.5) at 6 a.m. Sunday and WAKR-AM (1590) at 5 p.m. July 6 and 12:30 a.m. July 7.

 

Michael Shearer is editor of the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com and regional editor for GateHouse Ohio. He can be reached at 330-996-3750 or mshearer@thebeaconjournal.com.