On Nov 1., Nikki Delamotte and Anne Nickoloff made a pitch to their Cleveland.com editor:
“We have a series that we want to launch, and we think it’s timely,” they wrote in an email to their editor, Michael Norman. “We want to focus on Cleveland's entertainment/culture scenes (music, art, food, film, theatre, comedy/improv, dance, literature and fashion, among other sectors) and look at how different organizations or individuals are working to promote safety, diversity and inclusiveness.
“These topics already come up so often in our regular reporting, and it’s something that young people continuously tell us they’re concerned about.”
That series was set to launch in less than a week. Nikki, 30, was found dead in a suspected homicide on Monday.
Cleveland.com's president and editor Christopher Quinn shared that email with me on Tuesday. The stories about Nikki’s life, the community response and the response in the newsroom left a very clear picture of a journalist who was both fierce and kind — someone who did work a lot of us aspire to, someone we’d all be lucky to work along with.
Nikki came to cleveland.com about two and a half years ago, Christopher said, at the recommendation of at least four staffers.
“You’d be sitting across from her; she had these gigantic, thick-rimmed glasses that made her eyes big and this soft and lilting voice that disguised the ferocity of her questions,” he said.
She wasn’t meek, he added.
“Kindness is not a synonym for meek. She knew how to talk to people in a disarming way while asking a serious question, and I don’t think anybody ever took offense at the question because she asked it in such a gentle way.”
Nikki found stories that other journalists ignored, Anne said, and even with small stories, “she found a way to make them big.”
In separate conversations, both Anne and Chris brought up a story Nikki wrote before Halloween, about a woman who opened a store for witches.
“Had I written that story, it would have been about ‘look at this cool shop,’” Anne said. “But Nikki dives deeper.”
In Nikki’s version, you meet the owner, who lost her mother to domestic violence, took a trip to Salem the two had planned together and found purpose in opening her new store.
I asked her editor where Nikki was headed in career, and what she wanted to do next.
He guessed that she would have stayed in Cleveland. Being near family was important. She loved writing and reporting, he said. Then he mentioned the series, which they called “Building a Safer Scene.”
Nikki and Anne first came up with the idea for the series after a #metoo story from Cleveland’s music scene surfaced. As they talked about how to cover it and how people were responding to make things better, Anne remembers Nikki asking why not include everything they were nervous to write about?
The two planned to look into how the arts world was promoting safety, diversity and inclusiveness.
On Tuesday, Anne emailed her editor after I checked in with him to make sure it was OK to use their pitch email in this story.
“…I know this is early to say – but I'd still like to do the series in some way, at some point,” she wrote to Christopher. “It's something we were both excited about and talked about for weeks and it feels even more important now.”
Nikki made Anne want to be a better journalist, Anne said, and a better person.
“She really wanted to make the world better,” Christopher said. “That’s where she was headed.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said an email pitch was sent to editor Christopher Quinn. It was originally sent to editor Michael Norman