22 Plain Dealer Newsroom Staffers Laid off in Advance Union Purge

click to enlarge 22 Plain Dealer Newsroom Staffers Laid off in Advance Union Purge (2)
Sam Allard / Scene
Columnist Mike McIntyre, TV Critic Mark Dawidziak, Senior Staff Photographer Marvin Fong and Health Reporter Brie Zeltner are among the 22 Plain Dealer newsroom staffers laid off Friday in the latest union purge by Advance Publications.

The cuts were announced last month by newly christened editor Tim Warsinskey, a local newspaper vet who'd been installed for the grim task ahead. At the time, the magnitude and severity of the COVID-19 crisis was not yet known, and so Warsinkey cited — and indeed, continues to cite — the "financial challenges" of the newspaper business to justify depleting Cleveland's print newsroom by more than half.

The layoffs arrive, though, only days after Advance's owners, the Newhouse family, made a move to diversify its portfolio with an all-cash acquisition of the Ironman brand for $730 million.

Coronavirus nevertheless delayed the layoffs for two weeks. During the past month, the PD's editorial teams have produced, collectively, more and better journalism than they have in years. It was a farewell blitz of vital reporting, virtually all of it centered on the pandemic and its local angles, that asserted the newspaper's value to a news-malnourished region.

In light of the pandemic, the Friday layoffs are especially grim, as audiences flock to original local reporting. Among those laid off are 18 members of the local News Guild (the nation's first) and four non-union managers. The Plain Dealer's total reporting force is now down to 14 souls, hardly sufficient personnel to produce a daily print newspaper, even with the aid of a remote production team laying out pages and designing graphics.

But that's what's going to happen, supposedly. Warsinskey wrote in a post about the layoffs that the paper would continue to print seven days a week and be home-delivered four days a week.

"As it has for years, the newspaper will contain not only stories from The Plain Dealer staff, but also from cleveland.com reporters and national wire services," he wrote. "The Plain Dealer stories will continue to appear on cleveland.com. And The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com are remaining separate companies, each with its own newsroom."

This ridiculous schism, which everyone knows by now was orchestrated by Advance to crush the PD union, has led not only to redundancies in local coverage but to ongoing confusion about the state of journalism in Cleveland. There will remain, between the two newsroom, nearly 80 reporters, editors, web content producers and so forth.

The non-union digital newsroom, led by Chris Quinn, has generated an enormous amount of content on the Coronavirus pandemic as well, including a steady stream of breaking dispatches from the Columbus bureau.

But that doesn't make the layoffs Friday seem like any less of a death blow. Friday's cuts seem even more severe than those of the recent past in part because of their timing and in part because of the number and high profiles of the reporters being let go.

McIntyre, who  hosts the daily Sound of Ideas news program on WCPN and Brie Zeltner, who authored the "Toxic Neglect" series alongside Rachel Dissell, are two of the most well-known and highly-regarded journalists in town.

Many of the others are indispensable reporters, alone in the region on their beats. The News Guild, in a statement Friday evening, shared the names and descriptions of many of those who were laid off.

-Brian Albrecht, who could paint a vivid scene like no other, and who chronicled the stories of World War II veterans with honor and passion. He memorialized the stories of the heroes among us before it was too late.

-Mark Dawidziak, the paper’s television critic, whose way with words conveyed the power of television to entertain, educate and bring us together. For more than two decades, he recognized this as the pre-eminent art form of our time, informing readers of important shows and technological trends.

-Marvin Fong, a sharp sports photographer who also was known for getting “the shot,” including Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora being led away in handcuffs and John Demjanjuk removed by ICE agents.

-Jordyn Grzelewski, recently named one of the state’s best business writers by the Associated Press Media Editors, who wrote the obituary for her former paper, The Youngstown Vindicator, and uncovered issues of housing inequality in Cleveland.

-Lynn Ischay, who became lifelong friends with many of the people she photographed. She chronicled the journeys of the Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word, the group of young poets who traveled from their St. Clair/Hough neighborhood to perform in Paris and Lyon; and the Lost Boys, South Sudanese refugees as they relocated to Cleveland.

-Zachary Lewis, who deftly covered the Cleveland Orchestra as well as other local cultural institutions, and also wrote a regular column on fitness. His departure leaves the paper with no critic to cover the greatest orchestra in the country.

-Michael McIntyre, who started tossing newspapers from the back of a truck with his dad, a Plain Dealer circulation man, as a kid and later became one of the most respected journalists in town, penning powerful feature stories that often brought our community together.

-Teresa Dixon Murray who has given solid, and sometimes chiding, financial advice to Greater Clevelanders in her Money Matters column. She was a watchdog for readers, helping them in real, tangible ways, including getting to the bottom of a surge in Verizon data usage that affected thousands of customers.

-OIivera Perkins, a national award-winning business reporter, who covered labor and employment. In 2010, she chronicled the effort Hugo Boss employees mounted to save their plant. Last year, her Pathways to Prosperity series with Patick O’Donnell highlighted potential solutions for connecting education to job prosperity.

-Grant Segall, a long-time feature and news writer, who, over his 30-plus year career, has written about a variety of topics, including transportation and the park system, and chronicled the lives of interesting Northeast Ohioans in his weekly My Cleveland column, which profiled a variety of real Clevelanders among us, not just those with “important” titles.

-Andrea Simakis, who covered theater, used her metro column to hold power to account and her narratives to change hearts and minds. Her prose moved people to write an Ohio governor, earning a man an early release from prison, and prompted a local college to offer a scholarship in honor of forgotten women murdered by a serial killer. "Case Closed," her final project for the paper, told the story of Sandi Fedor, a grandmother who had to track down her own rapist. It has been nominated for a Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Violence and Trauma.

-Branson Wright, an award-winning sports reporter and videographer who has always been able to get interviews with stars others could not, from LeBron James to Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. He was a triple threat, covering all major sports teams in Cleveland.

-Chuck Yarborough, the paper’s popular music critic, whose concert reviews and deep knowledge of the music world’s ins and outs entertained and educated readers for years. The list of celebrities he was able to get to talk include Ringo Starr, Geddy Lee, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger. Yarborough was also the city's most in-depth reporter of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. For 12 years, he was the editor of the Friday magazine and worked as the sports copy desk chief. He traveled to Iraq to report on the war for a six-week series that informed readers on the life and travails of U.S. troops in combat.

-Brie Zeltner, a nationally respected public health expert, whose deep and nuanced reporting and compassionate coverage of child poverty, infant mortality and lead poisoning spurred action in our community.

We also lost editors and designers who worked largely behind the scenes to make our work better, including Melodie Smith, a calm and compassionate editor who made every story better — and who was an insightful movie critic when she had the time — and Joel Downey, who was a jack of all trades, juggling complicated graphics and sophisticated design work.
The Guild also noted in its statement that the few remaining black women on staff were laid off. "Our staff is now 81% white, in a city that is 47% black. It is unacceptable," the statement read.

"Of the 77 journalists covering Northeast Ohio for the company, only 16 remain at The Plain Dealer and only 14 of those are union members. Since 2013, Advance has methodically reduced the number of journalists in the Guild-represented Plain Dealer newsroom, while boosting the presence of its non-union newsroom at cleveland.com... We mourn what this gutting of our newsroom means for Northeast Ohio and all of the stories that will not be told. When local journalism loses, so too does the community."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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