Cleveland: Sunday kickoff for 'Save the Plain Dealer' push

8:54 PM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The people who find and report the news for the Plain Dealer are launching a campaign starting Sunday to preserve printing  the paper seven days a week.

Local 1 of the Newspaper Guild has bought billboards, bus placards and on Sunday will launch a Facebook page and petition website asking readers, advertisers and community leaders to reach out to the paper's owners to try and convince them Cleveland wants and needs a 7-day-a-week paper.

Guild spokesman and reporter Harlan Spector says, "We want this community to get involved and to save the daily newspaper and quality journalism in Cleveland.

There are ongoing rumors that Advance Publications is contemplating a possible change to a 3-day-a-week print edition and continuous website business model. That would make Cleveland the largest U.S. city with no daily paper.

Advance papers in Alabama, Michigan, New Orleans, Harrisburg and Syracuse have adopted or announced plans to adopt such a model. 

There's been no indications of specific changes coming to the Plain Dealer.

Changes have meant significant staff cuts in other cities.

Reporter Rachel Dissell says, "We are not afraid of the digital age. We're afraid of not having the people who know how to get the records and dig deeper into stories...we want the public to be a watchdog for us."

Members of the Newspaper Guild at the Plain Dealer say they have been told changes and layoffs are coming but have not been told specifics.

The Guild has an agreement preventing any layoffs until January 31, 2013.

The Plain Dealer's Guild membership of 170 reporters, editors and photographers is about half what it was ten years ago.

The Guild notes that many people are not internet users or don't have computers.

Declining circulation and advertising and increased use of the internet and other electronic communication has made inroads into the paper's profits.

Advance has resisted switching to asking readers to pay for website content.

The Guild claims the paper still makes money.

Guild members argue that the 7-day newspaper is Greater Cleveland's best and most in-depth source for significant local news and that changes would cripple its ability to produce good journalism.

The Facebook page that activates Sunday is www.facebook.com/SaveThePlainDealer.

The petition website that starts Sunday is www.change.org/petitions/save-the-plain-dealer.

The Guild has met with local officeholders and key civic and business players.

So far, some seem reticent to comment about any possible role in the campaign.

Guild spokesmen admit it's awkward to seek support from officials the paper covers.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is supportive.

He said, "Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and all of Northeast Ohio deserve a first-rate, 7-day-a-week newspaper the entire community can access...to move to anything less...will send a message our region is economically viable, and that is anything but the truth."

Congressman Dennis Kucinich urged Advance to seek possible buyers for the Plain Dealer who would continue daily publication.

"If you don't want to have a 7-day-a-week paper in Cleveland, sell to some who will publish seven days a week," he said.

FitzGerald compares the issue to the campaign to preserve  United Airlines hub at Hopkins Airport.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership's Joe Roman says the group has been focused on the election and Cleveland school levy and no decision has been made about possible involvement in the campaign.

The Guild hopes the community will come up with constructive ways to make a case to the paper's New Jersey owner that the paper is vital to Greater Cleveland.

Reporter and Campaign Organizer John Mangels says, "It's common ground where people can talk about important things."

How much does Cleveland care about its daily paper? We'll start to find out Sunday.

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