The campaign—in billboards, bus placards, advertisements and letters to community leaders—is warning readers of the potential dismantling of its print editions and asking them to contact Advance. This staff-driven offensive includes a Facebook page—which, as of Monday, had 3,177 followers—and an online petition, which has been signed by more than 5,000 people.
In a November 17th piece, Ted Diadiun, the PD’s reader representative, examined the situation, and praised the Guild for “conducting a principled campaign,” but also “wish[ed] the Guild had not tried to enlist the paper’s news sources [civic leaders] to help the cause,” citing potential ethical problems.
Spector said no reporter is asking sources for favors, which he called “a loaded word,” but they are explaining the situation if asked, to help promote understanding and community support.
The campaign is picking up steam, generating local and more widespread media coverage, and reader response, prompting Publisher Terry Egger (who unexpectedly announced in September he would retire early next year) and Editor Debra Adams Simmons to write a letter published on the front page of the November 18th Sunday edition.
Egger and Simmons assured readers that no specific plan, timeline or structure has been finalized and that whatever the decision, “this is not about cost cutting.”
The letter acknowledged changes at other Advance newspapers:
While Advance has been developing and refining this effort for several years, it is the role of our leadership team in Cleveland to design the best model to safeguard the future of our enterprise and to preserve the quality of our journalism at The Plain Dealer.
Ours in not an ‘either/or/ decision between print and digital. We must do both.
This, Egger and Simmons wrote, will require a “significant reset of our business.”
In response, the union sent out a letter to four hundred community, political and business leaders asking them to email Advance CEO Steve Newhouse to “ask why he hasn’t taken steps that have worked in other cities and that people in Cleveland say they would support,” such as charging for online news or improving the paper’s quality and then raising the price.
In Smith’s PD story (cited earlier), Steve Newhouse said the company will look “at business trends and industry data, not sentiment.”
Newhouse told the PD: “I think we need to address the economic and media realities that are facing us. If we can come up with a plan that supports local journalism and the great work we’ve already done, that’s the best we can hope for.”
Hopeful, too, was Sabrina Eaton, Koff’s colleague in Washington who also covers politics (though she and her fellow reporters were also, understandably, quite cautious in their responses to me). Eaton told me in an email that she is “extremely gung-ho” about online journalism. Political reporter Henry Gomez echoed that sentiment, pointing to the success of the paper’s “live chats on [presidential] debate nights” which drew more hits and comments, Gomez said, “than the Cleveland Browns game day blog.”
Gomez spoke of wanting to be part of “a solution that preserves the paper,” in a way that even “if it’s not a traditional model, at least it’s journalism,” and he hopes “it can be done in a way [that] we don’t lose legacy subscribers.” If the print product is reduced, Gomez said he “would assume they would at least keep the Sunday paper where we’ve done enterprise and investigative stuff.”
Wrote Eaton via email:
If the paper’s print frequency is reduced, I hope it won’t diminish The Plain Dealer’s news gathering operation because online and print readers in Ohio and across the country expect original content from us that real journalists have to produce. That’s the only way I could see The Plain Dealer’s politics coverage losing any of its bite, as you put it, if the changes occur that people are talking about.