Plain Dealer journalists plan pre-emptive campaign against reduced print, staff cuts

Advance Publications hasn’t said whether it intends to reduce the publication schedule or staff at The Plain Dealer, but journalists at the Cleveland paper want to get ahead of any decision their owners might make.

The Save The Plain Dealer campaign will start this weekend, Plain Dealer science writer John Mangels tells Poynter in an email.

The multi-media campaign will begin Sunday with a half-page ad in The Plain Dealer, to be followed by bus and billboard ads throughout the city. TV and radio ads will appear soon. There will be mass mailings and e-mailings to elected officials, political and business leaders and other people of influence. We’ll have a Facebook page with an abundance of content, a petition on Change.org, and a Twitter feed. We’re also working to organize community forums where we’ll discuss the future of journalism in Northeast Ohio, and the potential impact of the loss of the daily paper and much of its experienced news-gathering staff.

Reached by phone, Mangels says the newspaper’s management is aware of the campaign and that the group is paying full freight for the newspaper ad. Plain Dealer management, Mangels says, hasn’t said anything about Advance’s plans. “The only detail that we’ve been told by our bosses here is that major changes are coming, layoffs in some number are coming,” he says.

In a report on WKYC, reporter Tom Beres interviewed outgoing U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich — a former Plain Dealer copy boy — who said, “If you don’t want to have a seven-day-a-week newspaper in Cleveland, then sell the newspaper to somebody who will publish seven days a week.”

As Beres notes, community members in New Orleans also petitioned Advance to sell The Times-Picayune after reductions were announced there. New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson told Advance he’d like to explore buying the paper. The company rebuffed both overtures.

When I interviewed Advance.net chairman Steven Newhouse earlier this year, I asked him whether Advance planned to institute similar changes in its other markets.

“We’re facing the same conditions everywhere,” he said. “We’re looking at every market and trying to figure out what the right model is. We have local teams doing it because the conditions are different in different markets, but our goal everywhere is to come up with a formula where we can see a long-term future.”

Since then, Advance announced changes at The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News and The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard that pretty much followed the same script as in New Orleans and the country’s newspapers in Alabama. In May, Steve Myers reported on the possibility of similar changes at the Advance-owned Oregonian — and at the Plain Dealer. Harlan Spector, the chairman of the newspaper’s unit of the Newspaper Guild, told him Advance has a no-layoff pledge in effect until Jan. 2013. Unlike The Oregonian, The Plain Dealer is unionized.

“That agreement was struck in 2009, in exchange for a 12 percent pay cut, after about 50 newsroom positions were eliminated through buyouts and layoffs in 2008,” Myers wrote.

If the company doesn’t renew the agreement past 2013 and starts layoffs, Spector said, the pay for remaining employees will return to their previous level.

In an FAQ the campaign plans to publish on its Facebook page this weekend, it argues the company should consider instituting a paywall and says Plain Dealer journalists are “frustrated” with Cleveland.com.

While we have some input, The Plain Dealer doesn’t control Cleveland.com. We’re separately held companies under the Advance umbrella, operated by separate divisions. Why? We don’t know. What we do know is that Advance is going to have to make substantial improvements to Cleveland.com and its other news websites if it hopes to attract more readers and advertisers, pay wall or not.

I’ve contacted Advance for comment.

Here’s the group’s planned billboard (click for larger view):

And here’s its newspaper ad (click for larger view):

Related: Weld for Birmingham Editor Nick Patterson interviews Alabama journalists about changes in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile. Alabama Media Group’s Kevin Wendt says page views are up and print editions have “heft of journalism”; former Birmingham Post-Herald editorial page editor Karl Seitz says “readers don’t find many of the stories that are written” because of “the poor quality of AL.com.”

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  • http://twitter.com/tiny_emperor Michael A. Miller

    What are they trying to save? Ninety percent of the paper is heavily edited reprints of articles courtesy of “The New York Times”, and wire stories. What little local coverage there is is lame. The Sunday edition is a husk of its former magnificence. The news is outdated by the time it hits print. I’m sorry for elderly and other folks who aren’t online, but they’ll have to rely more on tv and radio news. I believe, moreso than trying to save “The Plain Dealer”, the staff is trying to cling to their positions of privilege in the publishing industry. There’s much to be said for knowing when to let go and re-inventing yourself online or with another, newsier alt-indie weekly.

  • Jeffrey Quick

    Perhaps it would be easier to maintain a 7-day PD if it were not a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democrat Party. I think people are getting tired of being lied to, especially under the guise of “fact-checking.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    “Alabama Media Group’s Kevin Wendt says page views are up and print editions have “heft of journalism”” — what does that last part even mean? Just the fact that this person is somehow the “vice president of content” is a red flag in itself. All one has to do is look at the recent history of who left this paper and who was hired and why. It’s been a joke for the better part of a decade, culminating with a front page that featured a 900-point R. Of course, the Poynter-owned newspaper hired the Mensa member who came up with that idea. Way to preserve the “heft of journalism!”