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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Death of Plain Dealer Arrives Sunday, Cleveland.com to Produce all Local Content for Paper

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 3:29 PM

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While the doctors won't pronounce The Plain Dealer officially dead until May 17, news of its imminent demise was blithely shared in a column Tuesday by editor Tim Warsinskey. But not before he took the opportunity to note he'd accepted the role of Senior Projects Editor for Advance Local, Advance Ohio's parent company. Bully for him!

An agreement had been ratified, Warsinskey came around to saying, in which the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild Local 1 agreed to "no longer represent the bargaining unit at The Plain Dealer and disclaim its interest in the bargaining unit."



The Union will be no more, in other words. The four remaining PD reporters, the last holdouts from a staff that numbered 340 only 20 years ago, will be laid off and offered jobs (on their current beats) at cleveland.com, which will become the sole supplier of content for the print Plain Dealer. (It has already been providing the majority of print content in recent weeks.)

"The newly united newsroom under the leadership of cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn will continue to provide stories and important perspectives to the people of Northeast Ohio," Warsinskey wrote. "The Plain Dealer remains a stanchion of Ohio journalism, and still is the best source for print journalism and advertising. Before anyone starts pounding nails in coffins, as some of my more sensationalist brethren and harsh critics are wont to do, take a breath. This is not the end of The Plain Dealer. Far from it."

Why anyone should take a breath and believe Warsinskey, after his crock of applesauce one month ago announcing the paper's shifting editorial focus, (a shift he said would broaden the paper's coverage to five underserved Northeast Ohio counties), is beyond us. That announcement was of course a lie, a ploy to get as many PD reporters as possible to take voluntary buyouts by removing them from their beats and exiling them to the exurbs. But Warsinskey wrote the column as earnestly as a boy scout and continues to shill for the company that just promoted him for donning the hangman's hood. He called cleveland.com "by far the largest [newsroom] in Ohio" Tuesday, for example, but after the purges on the print side that's no longer the case. The newly united newsroom, with 64 total staffers, is smaller than the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Toledo Blade, by recent counts. 

The Columbia Journalism Review reported Wednesday that the PD staffers who have been laid off during the pandemic can keep their health insurance until February, provided they sign a non-disparagement agreement, so that's some good news at least. (The piece, written by Anna Clark, is also the most comprehensive chronology of the paper's contraction from 2008 to the present moment, and is worth a read in full.)

The death of the Guild is by no means a surprise. The recent newsroom massacres have often been characterized as "death blows," and each Guild press release over the past year has read like a eulogy. Advance's whole digital-first strategy in Cleveland, though it mirrored the company's efforts to expand online content in other markets, was designed to bust the union that the Newhouse family so reviled.

The Guild noted in its statement Tuesday that as part of the agreement, it would make no efforts to organize the cleveland.com newsroom for at least a year, but encouraged other local unions and the national NewsGuild to do so.

"The end of the unit, as unionization is picking up at other media companies across the country, is a sad moment in Cleveland history. Its imprint on the newsroom, and city, has been invaluable in the last century," the Guild statement read. "Those who came before us bargained, picketed and went on strike over the decades for fair wages and benefits, worker safety and racial and gender equality. They also fought for free speech and objective coverage, protecting not just themselves but their readers...

"To those Guild members who came before us: We are sorry. To the city and people of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio: We will miss you. We did our best."


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