CLEVELAND, OHIO — Rust Wire, a collaborative media project which bills itself as “a voice for change in the Industrial Midwest,” was founded in 2009 by Angie Schmitt and Kate Giammarise in order to challenge the notion that some economically enfeebled towns in the Midwestern United States “weren’t worth saving.” The site, which features original reporting and photography, first-person essays, and opinion pieces, aims at highlighting the disregarded economic decline of many of American’s most notable post-industrial cities: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and others.
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“A lot of the web coverage in Cleveland overlooks the more serious urban problems our city faces,” says Schmitt, who shares editing duties at the site with Giammarise. One of the central motivations for Schmitt in establishing Rust Wire was the “need to get past just marketing ourselves,” she says, referring to what she sees as a rather ineffective spin campaign by post-industrial cities trying to attract new residents. She saw Rust Wire as a potential force in getting cities “back to addressing deeper, more consequential problems.” In one of her most salient pieces, The Problem with Boosterism, Schmitt harangues Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce for their negligent and dismissive statements regarding the city’s alarmingly high poverty rate and socio-economic inequities.
As she wrote, “I don’t see what good it does for Clevelanders to shout about how wonderful the city is when anyone who is being honest with themselves can see that Cleveland is a place where something has gone terribly awry.” Indeed, the urban blight experienced by many in the Factory Belt (as it used to be called in the days of manufacturing yore) is left under-reported by most major news outlets.
But Rust Wire is hoping to change that. Schmitt and Giammarise met while both were reporters for the Toledo Blade. Schmitt grew up in Toledo and has since lived in several Rust Belt cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Youngstown. She is currently based in Cleveland and holds down a day job as a writer for transportation news site Streets Blog. Giammarise is based in Pittsburgh and writes for Steel Business Briefing, a daily steel industry publication. Both labor over Rust Wire in their spare time. Schmitt estimates that Rust Wire has had forty volunteer contributors of both writing and photography since the site went live. The site is unincorporated and earns some revenue from direct sale advertising and events. A traveling photography exhibition sponsored by Rust Wire that showcases the work of urban photojournalists has been making its way through the Rust Belt for the last two years, gathering steam and building support for the web enterprise. The exhibition has made Rust Wire some money, but the endeavor was mostly, according to Schimitt, “for fun.”
Despite Rust Wire being an off-hours endeavor for both of its editors, the site is representative of how a site that covers an underreported topic of importance and covers it well can have an impact. One instance of recognition for the site’s efforts certainly stands out. Rust Wire garnered remarkable attention in the blogosphere when they were the first to publish an open letter from a prominent Michigan CEO detailing why he was considering uprooting his business from Michigan and moving it to a city with a larger talent pool and better economy. The letter lambasted the ineffectiveness of the city government as well as the absence of a plan for robust urban redevelopment. His number one reason for relocation, despite these myriad complaints, was the near impossibility of recruiting highly skilled white collar workers to live in the region. Governing, an online magazine providing commentary on state and local government, has lauded Rust Wire for its intense coverage on “urban farms and all things rusty and optimistic.”
Whether RustWire will be successful in redfining the Rust Belt’s financial image and political perception remains to be seen. But Schmitt sees a need for the site to go forward. As she says, “These problems are too large and the people too important. I just can’t shut up.”
Rust Wire Data
Name: Rust Wire