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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Handful of Veteran Reporters Took the Voluntary Buyouts Offered by Cleveland.com/Plain Dealer

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 9:12 AM

[image-1] Eight veteran reporters, writers and editors took voluntary buyout offers from Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer this week, that we know of.

Seven came from the digital side; one from the PD, where the offer was extended to managers and non-union employees.



They included Karen Farkas (Cuyahoga County government, higher education, gambling), Karl Turner (an editor), Peter Zicari (content data analyst), Sharon Broussard (opinion writer), Bud Shaw (sports columnist), Steve Koff (Washington bureau chief), Nate Paige (social media and entertainment), and Mike Starkey (a sports editor).

While initial discussions of future buyouts occurred back in March, the arrival of the official details and announcement last week brought a dour mood to 1801 Superior Ave. It didn't help that the uncertainty came amidst a series of layoffs at the Denver Post and Chicago Tribune and other staff reductions at media properties across the country.

Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn, on the WCPN morning news roundup last Friday, discussed the buyouts but said the situation at the region's biggest media outlet was "not dire."

"It's just the falling circulation numbers in print, they continue to hamper us," he said. "So we'll — you hate to see them go, they're veteran people, it's a lot of experience. Nothing matters more. But if it fits for where they are in their lives, and we can save some money, we're going for it."

Rachel Dissell, a vice president of the News Guild, said the guild was sad for the loss "of any journalists, especially ones with institutional knowledge and experience who have done what we view as a public service for Cleveland."

"But," she continued, "we are baffled how print circulation can be blamed for buyouts at a digital company that we've been told again and again over five years is a separate entity from the Plain Dealer."

Reaction this week has been a little hard to gauge as there are more questions than answers.

Buyouts aren't exactly a new phenomenon, and with only eight accepting the offer, the landscape of operations doesn't exactly change at Cleveland.com. Still, some wondered whether that number came close to what executives were expecting, and if the relatively small number that accepted means that future buyouts, or layoffs, are in the offing later this year or next. Plus there's the lingering negotiations between Advance Publications and the Guild, whose contract expires in February 2019.

There's also the question of how Cleveland.com tackles the beats left vacant by the departing reporters. Namely, that of Cuyahoga County government, higher education, and Northeast Ohio-related business and politics in Washington D.C. Not to mention the future of the editorial board, of which Turner and Broussard were members. Without them, the lineup is almost exclusively male (save for Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion), and exclusively white.

Three of the eight who took the offer were African-American, and their impending exits from an already not incredibly diverse newsroom haven't gone unnoticed by staff.

We posed those questions and concerns to Chris Quinn earlier this week but haven't received a response. Peter Zicari, one of the eight, did pass along his thoughts though, noting the relatively small impact the buyouts should have on coverage and landing on a hopeful note for what might be around the corner.

"It’s true, I’m taking the buyout," he told Scene.

"The others I know of are very good people and my friends – you’d expect that after all these years – but I don’t think our leaving is going to have an impact anywhere near the restructuring in 2013. For one thing, there aren’t many people involved. And speaking of myself, I’m not vain enough to think my parting as content data analyst is going to mean more than an increase in potholes and unmown grass on the media landscape.

"In the best of all possible worlds, Dick’s would have regular bidding wars with L.L. Bean and Urban Outfitters for space on Cleveland.com, and every car wash in the region would feel it’s necessary to have a $100 spot on the weather page every week. Daffy Dan would try for a national audience by advertising around the Cavs, and all of us could look to the horizons with confidence that there’s a secure place beyond them, as we did 20 years ago.

"Maybe someday. I am convinced that all the folks I leave behind, and their competitors around the city, are doing their best to carry on as well as they can, and I remain hopeful that the market will evolve into something that can support all of us generously. If John Boehner can 'evolve' into the medical-marijuana business, maybe anything is possible."

Amen.

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