Page 3 of 4
Nevertheless, the Save the Plain Dealer campaign is trying to do just that. And the situation here is unique in at least one respect: The other papers were blindsided by the announcements. When news of the cuts in New Orleans broke in May, the PD staff decided to get proactive and try to rally community support before Advance made similar changes in Cleveland.
"It became real clear to me there'd be an impact here when New Orleans happened," says John Mangels. "We all talked about it in the newsroom and had the same concerns. It was a national strategy Advance was following. We needed to react in some way, and let the readers and residents know what was coming and give them a chance to shape the outcome."
The committee members included Mangels, Harlan Spector, Rachel Dissell, Evelyn Theiss, Wendy McManamon, Andrea Simakis, Tom Breckenridge, Ellen Jan Kleinerman, Diane Suchetka and Karen Long. Other reporters would publicly voice support along the way.
Launched with a full-page ad in the Sunday, Nov. 12 paper and media stories on NPR, WKYC, and other outlets, the committee's Don Quixote effort has also plastered the city with ads and produced a television commercial. Its Facebook page has over 3,900 likes; the petition at Change.org has over 5,900 signatures. "Hot in Cleveland" star Valerie Bertinelli lent her star power to the cause, and local leaders like Councilman Joe Cimperman have taken up the flag as well. Events have sprung up, like a Save the Plain Dealer party at Market Garden Brewery and Distillery this week, all aimed at getting Advance to respond to public pressure.
A similar effort arose in New Orleans after Advance's plans were announced there. "Save the Times-Picayune" was launched by dozens of local luminaries and community leaders, whose efforts included attempts to buy the paper. Possible ownership groups were brought to the table, including New Orleans Hornets and Saints owner Tom Benson, though no financial details were made public, and no one knew how serious their offers really were.
It really didn't matter. As Warren Buffett once quipped, the Newhouse family has never sold anything in their lives. Last year, Buffett spent $142 million to purchase 63 newspapers from Media General. In an open letter of explanation, he wrote, "It seems to me that three days a week is simply unsustainable over the longer term. Either a publication is a newspaper or a periodical, and I think three days a week crosses the line."
Meanwhile, the Save the Times-Picayune effort didn't work.
"You hope and wish that it's different in Cleveland," says Rebecca Theim, a spokesperson for Save the Times-Picyaune and founder of thirtyDashthiry.org, a nonprofit that raises funds for the casualties of Advance's cuts. "But history has shown that if the Newhouses have made up their mind, that's what's going to happen."
Still, Save the Plain Dealer committee members remain hopeful.
"I've asked myself what the chances are of this working," says Mangels. "But I know the answer is zero if we don't do anything."
Last week, Local 1 of the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents PD staffers, began negotiations with the paper's labor representatives. Guild Chairman Harlan Spector says management made it clear that layoffs would come after the current agreement ends Jan. 31, 2013. Assuming that the standard playbook is followed, a cut in print production will follow soon afterward.
Which days the print edition will survive, beyond Sunday, are up in the air. Some papers have gone to Wednesday and Friday, others Tuesday and Thursday. No one has offered any guesses yet on what the PD's new publishing schedule will look like. It's also unclear how the changes will affect Advance's other print property in Cleveland, the 11 Sun News papers.
Earlier this week, the Guild publicly announced that management intends to lay off approximately 58 newsroom positions at the PD, slashing the staff by a third. There are also plans to shave 20 more jobs over the next five years. Some staffers will be offered positions at Cleveland.com, though no one knows how many.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.