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Plain Dealer ponders what decreased schedule could mean
New contract is approved, but with reduced staff
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
The crowd at First Unitarian Church was not happy about the possible slashing of the Plain Dealer's print schedule
Courtesy of Carl Carlson
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In The Region:
Plain Dealer staffers are in the midst of a campaign to rally public support for the paper to continue to print seven days a week. That’s one question never addressed in a new contract newsroom employees ratified last week. But it’s been a key question since the PD’s sister publications in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania cut back to three days. And WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports it was a key part of a forum sponsored by the Newspaper Guild Sunday.
Plain Dealer ponders what decreased schedule could mean

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Cleveland would be the largest city without a major daily newspaper if owner Advance Publications does what many are expecting and cuts the print edition to three or four days a week. That’s why Harlan Spector -- president of the paper’s chapter of the Newspaper Guild -- joined two former staffers for a town hall at First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights. 

They delved into questions such as why Advance hasn’t adopted a paid online subscription model and whether a white knight may spearhead a public-private partnership to save the print edition. Among the 100 people in the room, the youngest appeared to be baby boomers. Former PD columnist Afi-Odelia Scruggs is now a freelancer who maintains that concerns about content are different than concerns about format.

“I’m going to say something very uncomfortable. I’m looking at the demographics of this room. And I’m right there with you. But the reality of it is, when I go out with my younger friends, they’re pulling out smartphones, iPads and they’re getting their news that way. Ultimately what we’re talking about with the Plain Dealer is a method of delivery.”

Papers for the young
But moderator and Cleveland State professor Anup Kumar says there is a concern that younger people are not as likely to read newspapers. But that’s balanced by the fact that older folks tend to be more active voters.

“So they need to be more informed about the issues. It does not mean we should not get to the younger people. Yes, we should. We should try to make the transition to the new technology. But to expect to use that as a reason for saying that newspapers are the old form of journalism; I don’t agree with that point at all.”

New contract allows sharing
The Guild’s new contract allows more sharing of content between the Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com, a separate online entity. The march toward the new form of journalism has led to concerns that web hits – not newsworthiness – will determine what readers want. Jean Dubail, whose patch.com is solely online, remembered back to his time at the PD and Cleveland.com.

“When I was the online editor at Cleveland.com, and the statistics I see as the editor of patch.com, people do read those stories about those kinds of crimes and things like that. People often say that they don’t want sensationalism in their news, but you know what? They really do. I know, for instance, when I was at the Plain Dealer, one of the top 10 stories of all-time was something about a two-headed turtle.”

Eye-opening trend
He calls the trend eye-opening and dismaying. The new contract between the guild and the Plain Dealer includes layoffs. And guild President Harlan Spector says that hurts the chances to do meaningful investigative journalism, including investigation of massive Cuyahoga County corruption.

“Anybody with an iPhone can call themselves a journalist, but that ain’t journalism. But you need people down there that know how to go after records, how to uncover information. What’s at stake here is Democracy and the functioning of our Democracy. Because the thing is, you’re not going to know what you’re not getting. We’ve already lost every investigative journalist we’ve had at the Plain Dealer. They’re gone. What aren’t you getting? You don’t know. Kim Kardashian and two-headed turtles. That’s all you’re going to be getting under this Advance plan, I can tell you that."

Alternate plans
With lots of questions unanswered at the end of the meeting, Rick Taft from Pepper Pike had one more about what to do if the PD does cut its print schedule.

“We should examine the weekly cycle and try to make sure that on other days, when the Plain Dealer isn’t coming out, there are other forms of hard copy journalism. Such as the local Sun Papers, and so on. Maybe some kind of an entertainment paper on Friday. So there are other models that would keep hard copy journalism flowing, but in a different form.”

The guild contract will cut about a third of the newsroom staff in the next two years, the latest in a series of layoffs over the last several years. Professor Kumar says that could also mean the eventual loss of the Newspaper Guild’s Local One – the first newsroom union in the country.
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