Remaining Staff at The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer Prohibited from Covering Cleveland

The state’s largest newspaper is ceding its territory to Cleveland.com, owned by a sister company.

Wait, what? You read that headline correctly. Just days after The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, laid off 22 newsroom employees, the remaining 14 employees received more bad news. They have been prohibited from reporting on Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Summit County, as well as any statewide news, reports CleveScene.com. Those regions will now be covered by sister publication, Cleveland.com, a non-union shop. If the remaining newsroom employees want to keep their jobs, they will be restricted to covering Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Portage Counties, other counties in northeast Ohio, instead of beats they’ve covered for years.

The Plain Dealer Newspaper Guild, representing the union, spoke out on Facebook on April 7 about this latest blow to a once-respected media outlet. The post received 634 reactions, 274 comments and 770 shares, as of 8:30 p.m. Eastern yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

“The Plain Dealer newsroom will no longer be covering Cleveland, Cuyahoga County or the state of Ohio.

Editor Tim Warsinskey announced Monday to the 14 remaining staff members that the newsroom would, with a few exceptions, become a bureau covering five outlying counties: Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Portage.

The move would bar most of the reporters from covering stories in Cuyahoga and Summit counties, as well as statewide issues, where they have developed expertise and have institutional knowledge.

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This latest announcement comes as the newsroom has worked ceaselessly in covering this unprecedented pandemic, putting aside their own personal family and financial situations to cover the news and tell the stories of health care workers and the community…”

“…Warsinskey called the move a ‘company-wide strategy decision.’ He did not say which company.

The Plain Dealer, which is owned by Advance Publications, consistently has maintained that The Plain Dealer and Advance Local, are separate companies. Advance Local operates the nonunion Cleveland.com newsroom, which has not announced layoffs.

‘The two-newsroom operation was never going to become tenable or permanent,’ Warsinskey told staffers.

In effect, he is admitting that this decision is part of a broader move to eliminate The Plain Dealer and its staff altogether and not an attempt to provide meaningful coverage on areas the company has stopped reporting on in any depth for years. The announcement comes three days after The Plain Dealer laid off 22 people in the newsroom, including 18 Guild-represented journalists and four nonunion managers.

It’s clear that the company doesn’t value the expertise of its veteran reporters and it doesn’t think the community does either,” said the post. Read the complete post on Facebook.

In another interesting move, last night, there were no stories on The Plain Dealer’s website. There were scrolling photos, but no articles. A Google search directed us to Cleveland.com/plaindealer, but there was no link to that site from PlainDealer.com that we could find.

PlainDealer.com on April 8, 2020

It is not clear if this move was intentional, or perhaps a technical glitch. It seems to foreshadow what is coming. Cleveland.com will take over news reporting for what used to be the biggest paper in the state. Meanwhile, Cleveland.com looked like this. It contained Cleveland-based stories with bylines from Cleveland.com reporters.

Cleveland.com home page on April 8, 2020

The Plain Dealer’s editor Tim Warsinskey shared The Plain Dealer’s position with News 5 Cleveland on the changes:

“There are two separate, but related, newsrooms in Cleveland, and two outstanding news products – The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Together, they serve the market well – with The Plain Dealer stories appearing online at cleveland.com and cleveland.com stories appearing in print in The Plain Dealer, an approach that has been in place since separate newsrooms were established in 2013.

By design, this approach helps provide thoughtful, impactful coverage in the most efficient way possible and ensures that Greater Cleveland has more access to local journalism via digital platforms as demand for those platforms continues to grow.

Today, there are 77 journalists and content creators in these newsrooms covering Greater Cleveland, doing outstanding reporting, writing stories and creating content that our readers want and deserve. This number is comparable to the staffs in similarly-sized metro areas in Ohio and across the country. But it’s not just about the numbers of journalists we have on hand. It’s how they are deployed to create a broad base of coverage for all of the communities we serve in Greater Cleveland.

On Monday, The Plain Dealer shared a new reporting focus with the members of its newsroom, one that offers to bring high quality local journalism to five counties in Greater Cleveland, and the nearly 1 million people who live in them. Lake, Geauga, Portage, Medina and Lorain counties have been underserved by media in this market for years despite making up a large percentage of The Plain Dealer’s subscription base.

The Plain Dealer, along with our sister company Cleveland.com, has an opportunity to change that with The Plain Dealer’s new focus on these five nearby counties. This broadening of our coverage area is especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when all of our readers, regardless of where they live, deserve to know how the virus is affecting their local communities and how their local communities are responding,” Warsinskey said. Read the full statement on News 5 Cleveland.

Insider Take:

Cutting staff at a time when local journalism is more important than ever seems ludicrous, even if financially necessary. This latest move, however, makes absolutely no sense. Why would a media organization take skilled reporters with well-honed beats and move them to a bureau-type operation that no longer reports news from the newspaper’s largest coverage area? It is almost unfathomable. We understand the guild’s frustration and can only imagine how newspaper subscribers feel. It seems like Warsinskey and Advance Publications are not giving the full story here. From the outside, it looks like they are cutting union staff and hoping the remaining staff will hate their plight so much that they will leave voluntarily without a buyout or a mass firing. That would free the company up to transition to a digital model with non-union staff.