Will Cleveland

Name: Will Cleveland
Profession: Reporter & Writer
Title: Staff Reporter & Beer Columnist at the Democrat & Chronicle
Location: Tap and Mallet
Interviewer: John Loury Photography: Adriana Polizzi


1. What life events have had the greatest impact on who you are today?

I wouldn’t say that one event has had the greatest impact on me. I would point to a number of smaller events, because those have really built the foundation of who I am, how I do my job, how I impact my community, and what I hope to become. Specific stories and people really stand out for me. And my family has really helped mold me.


2. How do you define success? And what metrics do you use to confirm it?

When I leave work at the end of the day and I’m satisfied, then I feel like I’ve succeeded. It’s like the old sports cliché, but I seriously try to take it a day at a time. I have bigger projects that I’m working on, but I’m a creature of habit. I make daily lists (usually of like 15-20 things, including stories I need to tackle, interviews I need to set up, groceries I need from Wegmans, whatever) and I try to accomplish everything on my list. When I go home at night (usually around midnight) and I have completed all of the tasks on my list, I feel like I did a good job. And I try to compete with myself. We have different tools in the newsroom where I can measure story success online. And I set goals that way, meaning I want to surpass a certain number of page views each month or file a certain number of beer stories. I really like to do things like that.



3. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw the most inspiration from my newsroom. There are three journalists here — Jon Hand, Gary Craig, and Sean Lahman — that I emulate. Gary is the most tireless worker here. He knows everyone and he is so well respected, because he is honest and fair. More often than not when a big story breaks in Rochester, Gary broke it. He is usually three or four steps ahead of everyone. I’m trying to build the types of relationships that Gary has. Jon is really the same way as Gary. He’s incredibly well sourced. He knows everyone in the community. But what makes Jon such a phenomenal journalist is that he has a great eye for detail and he’s a wonderful writer. Jon has done an incredible series on cold cases, looking at long-dormant murder cases in Rochester from the perspective of both the police and the families left behind. He’s an incredibly gifted storyteller. I’m trying to grow like that. And Sean is the smartest person in Rochester. He is our database specialist.


4. What is it about your approach that is unique or separates you from others?

My dogged determination. I know you can’t do this job without putting in the effort. You can’t get the police to trust you unless you go to scenes and make yourself known. You need to build strong relationships. It’s the same way with beer. I know just about every beer person in Rochester. But this is only because I’ve built relationships. I try to do this with my breaking news coverage.
I try to balance everything that I do, I see families at these crime scenes… you try to balance it and put it off to the side or compartmentalize it. You can’t let it destroy you because there’s a lot of stories I need to tell. My beer column helps to counterbalance that.


5. How do you use information (data) to make decisions related to your profession or craft?

We analyze metrics in the newsroom daily, looking to see what stories did well, why they connected (or missed).



6. What does being a Rochesterian mean to you?*

George Eastman and Kodak, seriously, he built this city. I’m constantly in awe by what his generosity accomplished in this city. Also, this place is weirdly provincial and very proud. You kind of have this Monroe County attitude almost. People are very proud and protective of Rochester. I think that we get a bad rap in comparison to Syracuse or Buffalo. Because we don’t have major league sports teams like Buffalo or a major Division I college like Syracuse has. So people in that area think of upstate but don’t think of Rochester as much. We have a lot of world-class institutions in Rochester that they don’t have. They don’t have the Memorial Art Gallery or the George Eastman House, Strong Museum of Play, those kinds of stuff. Being from Rochester is unique because we have a very interesting history with abolition and women’s rights and George Eastman. I think that there’s a lot of innovation and being from Rochester makes me proud, and to see especially the advancements in technology taking place at Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester. Continuous development of those institutions and becoming a higher education town is a great turning point. We’ve gone from being Kodak and Xerox to high tech, small business, and health care. Rochester is often seen as the stepchild or little sibling of upstate. Buffalo and Syracuse tend to get more recognition, but this is a magical place. We have a lot to be proud of, but there are some serious issues that need to be remedied.


7. What are the greatest challenges Rochester faces in terms of future growth and success?

will-body-4This city is very segregated, both racially and economically. We also have a broken school system and a lack of community within many neighborhoods. There is little that seems to bind people together and less seem to genuinely care about each other. I might be looking at this the wrong way, but neighborhood bonds need to be rebuilt. Until we really look at what’s causing this or what can be done to help it, it’s going to continue to be the biggest blight on the city.


8. If someone were to film a movie about your life what actor/actress would you cast to play you?

John Candy. I am a huge “Stripes” fan. I think of him because he was so big and jovial and had this larger-than-life personality. He was a comedic genius. In that respect he’s like me—I’m not Canadian but we’re close enough.



9. Do you have any nominations of individuals who ROC Our City?

I come to this from two perspectives because of what I do at work and those that inspire me. I’m lucky to work with a team of super-talented journalists who inspire me and push me to be better every day. People like Gary Craig and John Hand. Also, someone like Shawn Brown of Teen Empowerment. He and Doug Ackley work very diligently to employ 15-20 teens every year to be teen advocates. They do things like slam poetry and work really hard to break that cycle of poverty.

Then there’s just a ton of beer people who are working really hard to make Rochester something cool. I would also nominate some of the people working to build the Rochester beer scene, including Jay Nichols from Stoneyard Brewing Company, Andy Cook from Swiftwater Brewing Company, and Dan Western from Lost Borough Brewing Company, plus a host of others.

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