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Scene & Heard

Friday, April 3, 2020

22 Plain Dealer Newsroom Staffers Laid off in Advance Union Purge

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 6:57 PM

  • 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 reporters and national wire services," he wrote. "The Plain Dealer stories will continue to appear on And The Plain Dealer and 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 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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We're Drinking More During Coronavirus, A Lot More — But Our Immune Systems Are Paying the Price

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 5:01 PM

We totally get it. Times are bleak. Life is grim. Weeks into the statewide stay-at-home order and we're are already feeling like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas or, like, Nicolas Cage in real life singing post-divorce Prince karaoke — and they're drinking like him, too.

With liquor stores deemed essential businesses (hell yeah!) and the entire state homebound, it's no wonder that alcohol sales are on the rise, not just here, but nationwide. According to market research firm Nielsen, alcoholic beverage sales are up 55% as of the week of March 15-22 across the country. Spirit sales are up, too, and have soared to 75%, while beer has seen a 66% jump and wine has spiked to 42% when compared to this time last year — you know, when we weren't living in a medical nightmare.

This news might make you want to celebrate the resilience of our livers by doing a shot or pouring a glass of breakfast wine (it's a thing now), but the officials are urging drinkers to moderate their intake because of the havoc it can wreak on our immune systems, which are really important because of coronavirus. Maybe you've heard of it?

Anyway, the experts urge folks to set limits when drinking and to not allow the collective trauma and grieving we're experiencing to increase our usual non-dystopian drinking limits. They also advise limiting high-sugar alcoholic beverages, which can also impact those with underlying health conditions.

They also remind us that some alcohol is stronger than others, including tequila and gin, and that a “standard drink” is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces for wine, or 1.5 ounces for spirits or liquor with a 40% alcohol content.

Depressed yet? Hold my beer. And pass the bottle ... of water.

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Ohio Officials Close Hocking Hills State Park in an Effort to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 3:20 PM

One of Ohio's most popular nature destinations will close at sunset today, April 3, to try and prevent spread of the pandemic coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Ohio officials say.

It's the first state park to close due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says that Hocking Hills State Park's popularity and its setup make it impossible for hikers to stay six feet apart from each other on the park's narrow trails.

Many of those trails back onto steep cliff faces or hills, meaning it's difficult for hikers to step off of the paths to give enough space to each other to avoid risk of contagion, officials say.

At this time, ODNR says there are no plans to close other state parks in Ohio.

The novel coronavirus that has spread across the globe has triggered the shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses in Ohio. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay at home order effective March 23 that requires Ohioans to avoid venturing out except for food, medicine, exercise and other essentials.

DeWine extended that order yesterday, adding new provisions designed to further prevent the spread of the virus.

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DeWine Recommends Release of 38 Ohio Prison Inmates Due to Coronavirus; Advocates Want Many More Released

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 3:17 PM

  • Unsplash

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine today announced that his administration is recommending the release of a small proportion of Ohio's 48,991 prison inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move comes after recent revelations that three guards at Ohio's Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. That prison is minimum security and inmates there gather in large groups and sleep as many as 200 to a dorm.

That news intensified criticism from inmate rights activists, who point out that prisons can easily become epicenters of contagion due to the movement of personnel in and out of prison facilities. Some groups are calling for a much wider release of inmates in the state.

DeWine says the state has measures in place to limit contagion, including daily screening of incoming inmates, employees and contractors. Nevertheless, DeWine says, the state is recommending the release of at least a handful of prisoners.

"We've started to look at different prisoners who it might make sense to let out early," DeWine said today. "We are sending today letters to judges around the state and suggesting that they may want to look at these prisoners."

DeWine said a total of 38 inmates who have not been convicted of violent offenses.

"These are not people who are sex offenders, these are not domestic abusers, they're not murders," DeWine said. "We screened out in the process a lot of different people."

Among the inmates who could see early release are 23 women who are either pregnant or who recently had a child that is with them in prison. Another 15 are inmates over 60 years old who have less than 60 days left on their sentences.

According to DeWine, judges in the communities in which the inmates were convicted would decide whether those inmates will be released.

"No one is saying that taking this many people out of prison is going to open up a lot of space in our prisons. We're trying to be very careful, very respectful of the local courts, the local victims and public safety," DeWine said today. "That's why we set a very strict criteria about who we would even consider. Will we look at additional? Yes, we could look at additional ones. But we want to take this very carefully."

Some want the state to go much further.

An inmate in the Belmont Correctional Facility filed a complaint in the Ohio Supreme Court against the state March 19 seeking release from the prison, claiming that there was no way to maintain social distancing in the prison.

"Bed areas are so crowded that I am within three feet of at least twelve people and those twelve are in the same position this means that there are 126 people in my ‘dorm’ that are within 3-4 feet of each other," inmate Derek Lichtenwalter's complaint reads. “The common areas are overcrowded and what this means is once it gets to the prison it will be spread quickly through the population.”

Lichtenwalter is serving 30 months for leading police on a chase.

The state asked the courts to dismiss Lichtenwalter's complaint.

Civil rights law firm Friedman & Gilbert today filed with the state an application for a categorical reprieve of Ohio prisoners in light of the COVID-19 crisis. That filing seeks release of non-violent offenders, those with a low risk of re-offending and those whose medical needs make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“The State has taken great strides to protect Ohio’s population, but people in Ohio prisons and the surrounding communities remain in grave danger,” Friedman & Gilbert partner Jacqueline Greene said in a statement. "Release of prisoners from Ohio’s prisons is necessary to flatten the curve of the effects of COVID-19 for the entire state.”

The attorneys who filed the application cite Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections data from last year showing that 15,000 inmates have conditions that could make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. They also say that conditions in Ohio's prisons often don't allow for proper social distancing and other measures limiting the spread of the virus.

“What we’re hearing from our clients inside Ohio prisons is that, despite efforts from ODRC, the current conditions in prison do not allow for any realistic measures for health and safety,” said Kimberly Kendall Corral, an attorney at Patituce & Associates who helped file the application. “Our clients are afraid and have no means to protect themselves.”

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Cleveland's 2021 FRONT Triennial Will Be Postponed to 2022 Due to Expected Ramifications of Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 1:48 PM

  • Front Triennial

According to emails going around in the arts and culture sectors of Cleveland, and which have ended up in Scene's inbox, the 2021 FRONT International Cleveland Triennial is being pushed back until 2022 because of the expected long-term recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

FRONT is expected to make the announcement official on Monday.

"The arts ecosystem has been and will continue to be, profoundly impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. From revenue and fundraising constraints brought on by the epidemic and practical considerations like the need to reschedule programming and exhibitions, it has become clear that FRONT, its Presenting Partners, and the public are best served by a postponement, and emphasis, in the meantime, on healing and recovery," a draft press release said.

“This was not an easy decision, but it is the right one, both for us and our partners,” FRONT Executive Director and noted supporter of local journalism Fred Bidwell is quoted as saying in that press release. “The postponement will allow us to present the best version of FRONT that we can something we hope will serve as a beacon of hope at the end of this difficult time.”

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COVID-19 Cases in Cuyahoga County by Zip Code

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 12:12 PM


The Cuyahoga County Board of Health has for the second week released a map of COVID-19 cases across the county broken down by zip code. It began the semi-detailed breakdown last week after pressure to be more transparent about the geographic breakdown of infections facing the region.

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Cleveland COVID-19 Surge Plan Creates 10,000 New Beds, but Won't use Convention or IX Centers

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 11:13 AM

The Cleveland Clinic - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • The Cleveland Clinic
Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals announced at a City of Cleveland press conference Friday morning that the local COVID-19 surge plan includes an increase of roughly 10,000 hospital beds.

The Cleveland Clinic is increasing its capacity from 3,000 to 8,000 beds, (including 1,000 beds at its Health Education Campus); University Hospitals is increasing its capacity from 2,000 to 6,000 beds; and MetroHealth is increasing capacity as well.

Case Western Reserve University may be used as an overflow location, depending on the severity of the surge, doctors said. The university's fieldhouse could be adapted to provide as many as 250 beds in some scenarios. Case has also offered dormitories for medical staff in the event of a surge situation where frontline personnel must work in shifts and won't have time to go home.

Mayor Frank Jackson said that the surge plan was the result of ongoing conversations between state, county and city health departments, the hospitals, the National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Clinic's Dr. Bob Wiley said that it made more sense to expand capacity on existing hospital facilities, instead of repurposing locations like the Huntington Convention Center or the IX Center, which had been previously floated as surge field hospital locations. The lack of staff and equipment at those locations made an expansion much less efficient. 

The current plan creates a surge capacity 2.5-3 times more than standard levels of operation. And that doesn't include similar expansions in Akron, Canton, Youngstown and Toledo. 

The hospitals have been conducting regular "tabletop" exercises to prepare for different versions of a surge in infections and hospitalizations, which could strike as early as mid-April, based on modeling from the Clinic and Ohio State University. The hospitals have the ability, they said, to move patients and equipment around the region as needed, but they remain concerned about the supply of ventilators, PPE and test kits.

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