Inner View: OhioIANews CoFounder, Publisher and Editor John O’Brien, Jr.
By Bob Carney
OhioIANews: Most of us are aware of some of the things that you are involved with in Cleveland's Irish community, but how did you get started?
JOBJr: I grew up in a house immersed in Irish culture. My dad is from Atteagh Mills, near Athlone, in the Co Roscommon. My mom is from Montreal, with her folks from Skerries, in Dublin. Dad has been President of the West Side Irish American Club for 20 years, and we spent a great deal of time at the club on 93rd& Madison and the “new” club in Olmsted Twp, which opened in 1990, growing up, literally and symbolically there.
I also grew up with Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, that dad and a group of friends started in 1982, when I was 16. We will celebrate our 35thAnnual July 21-23, 2017, at the Berea Fairgrounds.
When I was young, we often woke up to many bands and Irish visitors that dad had brought home from a dance at the IA or a Gaelic Football game. The people and the stories stay with me.
OhioIANews: January 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of the OhioIANews. What prompted you to undertake the commitment in putting out a monthly publication?
JOBJr: I had written on and off for a while, a few memorials and such, but I was not writing broadly with a purpose. I had broken my back and was out of work for a while recuperating. I was a banker then. To make money, I started writing.
My first book [John has 4, with a 5thon the way], a biographical work on Irish Music legends, is titled Festival Legends: Songs & Stories. I was signing copies at the Milwaukee Irish Fest, then went on tour with the book. The mighty Shay Clarke in Chicago took me around Chicago and introducing me and my book to Irish import storeowners. We were driving down I65 and Shay, as is his wont, stopped talking mid-sentence, made a phone call and said, “Cliff, I know you wanted to start a paper in Ohio, I have your man.” And handed me the phone. I didn’t know Cliff Carlson.
We met a month later, in October, and the first issue appeared January 2, 2007. Since the beginning, Cliff, who also publishes the Chicagoland Irish American News and is founder and director of Irish Books, Arts and Music (iBAM) showcase, has been a huge mentor, supporter, and friend.
OhioIANews: The work and the deadlines, the publication process, and the delivery require an extraordinary amount of time and perseverance on your part, what makes it worth the effort?
JOBJr: I am fortunate to be very deadline oriented already, which helps me to keep going forward. Most Columnists write on a theme. On the 1stof the month, the rest let me know what they are going to write about next month, so I can shield for duplication. The columns all arrive by (usually ON) the 10thof the month. I organize them, edit them and seek advertisers, sending everything to our layout artist on the 15th.
We go thru 3 proofs, then go to print by the 22nd. It is delivered to Scene Magazine the following Tuesday, and they deliver it to 230 sites all over Cleveland on the first or last Wednesday of the month, depending on where that falls. The rest of Ohio and the other 5 states that we are in, as well as the subscriptions, go via mail.
You never really know how many are reading it, and most importantly, are impacted by it, but marketing studies say we have 24,000 readers per month between the print edition and the online archives. I get a LOT of comments in person, and a few emails. Our 16 columnists do too, and share them with me. Every once in a while, I get stopped in my tracks by someone who tells me what an impact a story or the paper has had on them. That is very sweet. The success of the paper has allowed us to help organizations, to the tune of about $18,000 per year. THAT matters to me.
OhioIANews: You and your family put on Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, you're an author and a poet, a proponent of the Irish language in Cleveland and you seem to be at most Irish events going on in the Cleveland area; do you ever sleep?
JOBJr: I am blessed, but not in the sleep department. 2-3 hours per night keeps me functioning.
OhioIANews: What would you like to see in the future for the OHIOAN and Cleveland's Irish community?
JOBJr: Our tagline is “We bring you the Irish movers, shakers and music makers each month”, and “Where ever the Ohio Irish gather, there is the Ohio Irish American News”. I would be at those events if there were no paper; I love the camaraderie, love meeting new people and sharing auld stories, and especially, songs.
We started at 16 pages, and are now consistently at least 24 pages, often 28 pages, up to 40. Preserving, presenting and promoting the Irish culture is ingrained in me, and gives me great joy and great opportunities. I want to go from Success, to significance.
For the content, I would like to add more humor, finding good writers who can meet deadlines is a challenge. Your columns: Inner View, Cleveland Comhra, and Speak Irish, all arrive in my inbox near the first or 2ndof the month, for the following month. Though due BY the 10th, most others arrive on the 10th, or 11th! Then they have to be edited, go through layout, proof etc ...
We are always accepting submissions as we seek writers who are a great fit for the OhioIANews. I would like to have more time to be more creative with the paper, help more people. I am searching for a salesperson to help, but even in a tough employment market, driven sales people are hard to find.
My day job as spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office does not allow me to get involved in the political process or commentary, but I hope to some day – The Irish always have been involved in politics, and have much to say. They wield an enormous amount of political power, that is not harnessed for good often enough. We can and should be a force for good in the world, and have the numbers and civic-minded smarts to do so.
For the Cleveland Irish community: My generation is, for the most part, the last First Generation, the last generation whose parents are from Ireland. There are a few new Irish in Cleveland, but not even a blip compared to New York, Boston etc., or that came here a generation ago, and before. I am hell-bent on showing the Irish in Ireland and across the Diaspora, what a great community, and great opportunities we have for the Irish, and all immigrants, here in Cleveland.
1.4 million people of Irish descent on Ohio, 450,000 in Greater Cleveland, 176,000 in Cuyahoga County have open arms and a strong pay it forward belief system to help those in or coming to our community to “make it”; the fostering the Irish in America and across the Diaspora have survived by, for more than 800 years.