On July 31, 2013, after the layoff calls came, some of the current and now-former staff of The Plain Dealer got together for drinks at Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland. Newsrooms around the country called in and bought drinks for those gathered — $4,933 worth of drinks, Eric Sandy reported the next day for Cleveland Scene.
That day, more than 50 people had been laid off from The Plain Dealer.
“We drank for free all night,” John Horton remembered.
“It was bittersweet because we were together, we were supporting each other but we knew that so many of us, myself included, were not going to be going back to the building ever again,” Ellen Kleinerman said.
Plain Dealer staff gathered on layoff day: July 31, 2013. (Photograph by Lisa DeJong)
Kleinerman and Horton were there. So were Donald Rosenberg and John Mangels. One guy, Harlan Spector remembers, drove up from Pittsburgh just to lend a shoulder if needed. “It’s so touching that somebody would feel compelled to do that,” he said.
“It was strange, I guess it was sort of like a wake in a way, but everybody was very compassionate about everyone else’s situation,” Rosenberg, who covered arts and wine for the paper, said. “The people that survived were very empathetic of the people who were leaving. The people who were leaving were very concerned about what was going to happen next.”
“Our emotions were pretty raw, as you can imagine,” Mangels said. Although he said the night was “a bit of a blur, unfortunately,” he, too, remembers that it “felt like a wake,” but also a graduation. And more notable: “We didn’t talk shop, which was the normal topic when journalists gather. We talked about ourselves and our families, our fears and hopes for the future. I remember talking to one of the graphic artists, a talented guy who was hoping to reinvent himself as a long-haul trucker.”
“I think everyone realized that things were changing,” Horton said. “In a way you’re saying goodbye to a lot of people and the way things were and going into an unknown territory.”
“I think we all were aware that it was the last time we’d be together as newspaper journalists, but that we’d always share that bond,” Mangels said.
One year later, we’ve caught up with some of those journalists who were laid off from The Plain Dealer. We couldn’t get every story, and we’d like to hear more: Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have one to share.
John Horton: ‘I was making a long-term decision’
John Horton (submitted photo)
Being a reporter was John Horton’s dream job. In elementary school, he delivered the paper for three years, lugging the heavy bag with newspapers up and down Cleveland streets. He worked at The Plain Dealer for 14 years. During the last five years, Horton wrote a column called “Road Rant,” writing about people’s complaints about issues including bad roads and potholes. One year ago, Horton took a voluntary buyout.
“I was making a long term decision,” he said.
“I was going to bet on what they were doing, or I was going to bet on my ability to transition into another career.”
A few weeks later, Horton started his current job in media relations at Cuyahoga Community College. Now, he still works with journalists and looks for good stories. Horton didn’t leave with hard feelings, he said.
“I loved every day that I was there.”
After the layoffs, Horton started running with his 13-year-old son. It cleared his head. He still runs nearly every day, has lost 20 pounds in the past year and ran a half-marathon. He truly enjoys what he’s doing now, he said, but “to be honest, there aren’t a lot of of jobs that are cooler than being a reporter. I mean, that’s what Superman was.”
“I miss the daily challenge that you had, the feeling that you were doing something larger that made a big difference, fighting that fight every day,” Horton said. “I think journalism is one of the few jobs that really has that aspect to it.”
He doesn’t miss the situation at The Plain Dealer or the stress, though. No job comes with guarantees, but for him, the day-to-day worries about what was coming next were too much.
“Leaving that was a relief.”
Ellen Kleinerman: ‘It was a calling’
(Ellen Kleinerman, submitted photo.)
Ellen Kleinerman didn’t realize how stressful the months leading up to the layoffs were until it was all over. Kleinerman, who worked for The Plain Dealer for 14 years, did not volunteer for the layoffs.
“I was just an emotional mess,” she said. “It wasn’t just a job for me. It was a career. It was a calling. It was something that I would get up every day and feel like, this is what I want to do. It just was more than a job.”
Kleinerman, who covered medical issues when the layoffs happened, did a lot of networking after she recovered from the news. She freelanced. Then, in February, she drove for an hour through a snowstorm to get to calling hours for a friend’s mother. The whole time she thought, “I’m really crazy to do this. I should just turn around. She’ll understand if I don’t attend. But it’s the right thing to do.”
There, Kleinerman bumped into another colleague who was starting a new job at a chain of weekly newspapers. That chain was looking for a new editor.
One month after applying, Kleinerman went in for an interview.
“So now I’m in newspapers again,” she said. “It’s different, but it’s exciting.”
Kleinerman is the editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, the Solon Times and the Geauga Courier.
Kleinerman has seen a lot of change in 30 years as a reporter and editor. She still reads The Plain Dealer, and she misses it. But she doesn’t miss the stress.
“I guess there’s life after The Plain Dealer,” she said. “And it can be an OK life.”
Bob Fortuna: ‘I don’t miss it. How sad is that?’
About five months after high school sports reporter Bob Fortuna left The Plain Dealer, he was selected for the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame alongside his former colleague, Tim Rogers.
A story about the honor ran at Cleveland.com, but no reporter at the newspaper reached out to him for it. Still, said Fortuna, who covered high schools for 36 years and worked at The Plain Dealer since 1990, “It was a nice way to finish.”
Now, Fortuna’s a one-man interior painting and landscaping business. A realtor friend has set him up with clients, and he’s getting work from former Plain Dealer colleagues, too.
“Since I was at The Plain Dealer, I haven’t seen the chiropractor once,” he said. “I used to go once a month.” His headaches are gone, and he dropped 25 pounds. “Mentally and physically, this is the best I’ve felt in 15 years.”
Since volunteering to leave, Fortuna has turned 60 and celebrated 30 years of marriage with his wife. “There is life after The Plain Dealer, believe it or not,” he said. “And that life ain’t too bad, either.”
Fortuna misses the athletes and the coaches from his beat, but says he doesn’t miss dealing with parents and the media frenzy around National Signing Day.
And when it comes to painting, Fortuna immediately knew that was the path forward after ending his career at a job that was increasingly demanding. He always enjoyed painting — “I just never had the time to do it,” he said. “With the social media thing, they want you 24/7. You don’t have a life.” His wife “saw what it was doing to me. She said, ‘you gotta get outta there.’” So he volunteered to go.
“People ask me if I miss it, and I don’t miss it,” he said. “How sad is that?”
John Mangels: ‘I think we had some success’
“I’m still kind of coming to terms with the fact that I’m not and probably never will be again a newspaper journalist,” John Mangels said. Mangels found a job as a communications manager for the Cleveland Clinic after a couple months of looking.
“I was fairly fortunate,” Mangels said. The time off “was tough psychologically, but I was fortunate to go back,” he said. At the new gig, he oversees production of more than 10 print products.
“I use a lot of the same muscles that I did as a newspaper journalist,” Mangels said.
Mangels volunteered for the layoffs list but said he found the job market to be “grim.”
“For someone who has skills that I thought would be translatable … people weren’t beating a path to my door, let’s just say it that way.” He said he was “really lucky to thread the needle. I found a job in Cleveland,” one he not only likes but that lets him continue to write.
Mangels was a science writer for the newspaper and helped organize a campaign called Save The Plain Dealer, a preemptive strike against any plans to cut staff at The Plain Dealer. The paper’s owner, Advance, had made wrenching changes at many of its other properties as it prepared to become a digitally focused organization.
“We’d known, deep down, from the beginning of the campaign that the odds of preserving the paper as it existed were long, probably impossible,” Mangels said. “But it was important to us to try — to alert the community to what was happening, and to try to mitigate some of the more drastic things Advance was planning. I think we had some success.”
John Luttermoser: Working on projects with meaning
John Luttermoser worked at The Plain Dealer for 21 years as a copy editor. Before that he worked at the St. Petersburg Times. Now he’s “working part-time as business administrator for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, a regional group of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in the Cleveland area,” he writes in an email. “I’m also doing some free-lance editing and I’ve continued my volunteer work as secretary of the board for the Dougbe River Presbyterian School, which opened in 2012 in a remote region of eastern Liberia that didn’t previously have a school.”
Peggy Turbett: ‘Photography has never been more important’
Peggy Turbett (submitted photo)
Peggy Turbett worked for 13 years as a staff photographer at The Plain Dealer. Her first plan, after learning she’d been laid off, was to work as a reading tutor at an elementary school once a week, “to decompress, I guess, and then figure out the rest as it came along,” she said in an email.
That tutoring gig turned into an after-school camera club that met twice a week for four months. During the time, she said, she got a call asking if she’d teach photojournalism at John Carroll University. A colleague from The Plain Dealer who also taught there suggested Turbett.
“That kind of networking has been crucial,” she said. “If someone asked me to lunch or dinner, I went. Invited to join a local professional women’s group – I did. I also filled out my camera gear with an additional camera body and long lens to handle professional freelance assignments. In the past year I’ve photographed weddings, anniversaries, holiday portraits, high school sports programs, and magazine stories.”
Now, she has several photo projects and continues teaching as an adjunct. Turbett misses the salary and benefits, but not the schedule.
“The interesting dichotomy is that photography has never been more important – visuals are needed in every industry and social media outlet,” Turbett said. “But the prospect for veteran photojournalists to find jobs at daily newspapers is grim to none, from what I’ve seen. The New York Daily News just laid off David Handschuh, with three decades of experience, a former president of NPPA, and who was gravely injured while covering the 9/11 World Trade Center attack for the paper. I mean, really, how can any staff photojournalist feel safe?”
Scott Shaw: Business is booming
Scott Shaw worked at The Plain Dealer for 23 years. He writes in an email: “I’ve been very busy working on my wedding and portrait photography business. I started about five years ago on the side in anticipation of the industry issues. I volunteered to be laid off and it has been a fun challenge! I plan on doing more commercial and photojournalism work in the future but right now I don’t have spare time for that.”
Margaret Bernstein: Making a living ‘while doing good’
(Margaret Bernstein, submitted)
Margaret Bernstein was a few weeks away from her 24th anniversary with the Plain Dealer when she took the voluntary buyout. Bernstein wrote a column twice a week that was “solution-oriented,” she said in an email, informing people how they could make a difference in the city, “particularly with helping people get out of poverty.”
Her job led to research on issues such as literacy and parent mentoring, and Bernstein thought with all she knew, she could make a living while “doing good.”
“I am now a self-employed consultant, and my ‘call to action’ style has become my brand,” Bernstein said. “I helped design and am currently promoting a ‘Top 10 Ways You Can Improve Literacy In Greater Cleveland’ campaign for a local organization, The Literacy Cooperative. I’m also facilitating the spread of the Little Free Library ‘movement’ in Cleveland.” She’s also working to finish a book she has spent 12 years working on about Cleveland activist Yvonne Pointer. Read more