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The T-P Fiasco: Cleveland Gets a Better Deal, Yet Staff Feels The T-P’s Pain
The Newhouse Effect is felt in Cleveland.
Although the Newhouses gave Cleveland a better deal than they did New Orleans, the newsroom at Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer is starting to feel the impact of the company's new cost-efficient, freestyle approach to publishing.
While The Times-Picayune was cut back to three days a week with home delivery, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; The Plain Dealer still publishes a full daily newspaper and has the advantage of four days of delivery Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as opposed to our three. The edition that Clevelanders get that we do not is Saturday, which is an important news day in New Orleans as we will be reminded Feb. 1 when city elections are held that day. Saturday is also an important day for sports, end of the week news and even reading the details about indictments, which often are delivered on Fridays. Nevertheless, the Newhouses, under the name “Advance Publishing,” are implementing the same type of newsroom reorganization for The Plain Dealer that they imposed here.
“This Used to be a Newsroom” is the headline of a recent article in The Columbia Journalism Review that tells about the venerable newspaper going through the same fate as The Times-Picayune.
Referred to among reporters as "backpack journalism," the Newhouse concept treats newsrooms as more of a space for occasional gatherings rather than a place to go to work and hang your hat. Emphasis is on aggressively churning out digital content, most often from elsewhere.
A picture of an empty newsroom with abandoned cubicles accompanies the article about The Plain Dealer by reporter Anna Clark:
Over the past year the Cleveland paper has followed much the same plan that owner Advance Publications carved out in New Orleans and elsewhere: It reduced print delivery, shed staff through layoffs and buyouts, and saw the creation of a new, non-unionized digital company under the same corporate umbrella.
As revealed in the article, a common part of the Newhouses’ new newsroom vision is to relocate the editorial staff in a downtown office building. Just as T-P staffers were moved from the newspaper's Howard Avenue facility to Canal Place, The Plain Dealer’s reporters are being moved to something called the Skylight Office Tower. Virginia Wang, the newspaper’s general manager, was quoted saying the move “allows our reporters to continue being the voice of the community from a centrally located facility.” A staff reporter, speaking anonymously, took a dimmer view: “Our newsroom culture is gone.”
Another company official, Andrea Hogben, who sounds like she has gone to the same company training sessions that T-P publisher Rick Mathews has attended, announced, “The newly renovated space is designed to showcase our digital capabilities and promote a culture of innovation and creativity.” According to Hogben, “An ‘open office’ will feature a ‘variety of collaborative areas’ for media group employees.”
To the contrary, a source that the article described as a “veteran Plain Dealer journalist,” commented that the new layout is actually encouraging “journalists to work remotely and hindering collaboration.”
Curiously, while all media companies are facing issues of adapting to the age of the internet, including this website's parent company, Renaissance Publishing, there is no evidence of any company adopting the Newhouse Draconian model. It is an ongoing story, one that will keep changing – seven days a week.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. You can find it at local bookstores or online.
WATCH "INFORMED SOURCES," FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.