Killing Journalism in Cleveland

Ohio, Cleveland, Plain Dealer Building, daily newspaper office, desks,
The interior of a daily newspaper office in the Plain Dealer Building. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
April 7, 2020 1:21 p.m.

My routine as a kid was pretty simple. I’d wake up, grab the Cleveland Plain Dealer (or The News-Herald, published in the neighboring county) sports section, read every single story and then try as best I could to memorize every box score, statistic and name for every sport. I loved (and love) sports. I also loved the Plain Dealer, but sadly the Plain Dealer is being murdered.

Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, has been killing the paper for years and it appears to have dealt the death blow this week when it informed the remaining fourteen (14!) newsroom staffers they could no longer cover anything — wait for it — in Cleveland. Anything in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Summit County, or “statewide issues” will now be covered by the non-union, which is a sister site of the Plain Dealer. If that distinction is confusing, don’t worry, it is for everyone. 

The Plain Dealer, along with and a couple other entities, are part of Advance Ohio, which describes itself as “Both a marketing agency and publisher, driving daily conversations and engaging millions through stories on our website, newsletters, social channels and print publications.” It’s significant that “marketing agency” comes first, journalism second. 

The Plain Dealer only has 14 newsroom staffers because, last Friday, 22 were laid off. I encourage you to read Sam Allard of Cleveland Scene (thank god for alternative media) who has documented Advance’s miserly union-busting campaign. This paragraph gets at the shear cruelty exhibited by Advance:

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“And so the paper’s remaining staffers are now faced with a devastating decision: they can either leave and let the state’s largest paper, (and the country’s first News Guild), die, ceding victory at last to the Newhouses of Advance Publications who’ve been ruthlessly and methodically busting the PD’s union for years; or they can stay on, suffering the indignities of filing low-stakes stories on distant locales that haven’t been part of the paper’s regular coverage area for years.”

Full disclosure: I hate Advance with every fiber of my being. There is no one company that contributed more to my decision to dedicate my career to finding ways to sustain journalism than Advance, who has gone from metro paper to metro paper, gutting staff and killing journalism with Kendall Roy levels of competency.

I’ve written about why media executives fail, and how it largely hinges on people who don’t understand journalism chasing profits. It’s difficult to view Advance as anything but that. It’s difficult to have any sympathy for a company that bought the company that puts on Ironman triathlons in the same week they inform dozens of journalists they no longer have a job in the midst of a national health crisis when information is at a premium. I mean, according to Advance Ohio, they are “the the #1 source of news and information in the state.” But, sadly, like many media conglomerates, there is no true dedication to journalism, or the communities their publications serve. They are dedicated to profits.

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