Tuesday, December 04, 2012
COUNTDOWN TO FEBRUARY: Worse Than it Looks
When I posted yesterday about speculation whether our fair city was about to become the nation’s largest municipality without a daily newspaper — many expect Advance Publications, the Plain Dealer’s corporate owner, to move sometime before June to a thrice-weekly publication schedule — I omitted to provide one of the best sources available to remain abreast of this sad saga. That would be PD NOW WHAT, a site that Afi-Odelia Scruggs set up to report on the latest news on this topic.
Afi came to Cleveland two decades ago to write for the paper; today the talented and well-respected writer describes herself as an independent digital journalist. Yesterday she reported that the Plain Dealer is looking to reduce its newsroom by as much as one-third.
This is nearly unfathomable. And when I stop to ponder what this means for local news coverage, especially coverage of what I believe have long been underserved populations, namely working-class, inner–city, and African American communities, the picture is devastating. It gets even worse when I consider these two facts: the Plain Dealer chose some time ago to broaden its footprint by reaching out to neighboring counties: it now reports routinely on communities in Medina, Summit, Geauga, and Lorain counties. This expansion in my view has come at least partially at the expense of Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, Mt. Pleasant, Maple Heights, Warrensville Heights, East Cleveland, etc.
Secondly, this geographic expansion of its news coverage area is thinly justified by the misnamed local news coverage of Sun newspapers, a thin group of mushy and pretty much lily-white suburban weeklies that cover parts of four counties and are also owned by Advance Publications. As I have had occasion to remark many times over the last few years, the Sun chain has strategically and systematically withdrawn from virtually every community that has undergone any radical demographic change. These local papers pretty much wholly refused to report on or even acknowledge the changes and their implications. Essentially, Sun newspapers ignored the newcomers, thus giving them no reason to invest time or dollars in supporting the papers. Sun then pulled the plug on those publications, citing what else, lack of support from those same newcomers.
I could make an economic case for why Advance has essentially abandoned Euclid, Bedford Heights, Collinwood and other communities in both its daily and weekly products. But I can only imagine how ghostly the gaps in coverage will become if the Plain Dealer loses a third of a current workforce that is already strained to provide even sieve-like coverage of much of its home county. I mean, should it take thirteen copsfiring 137 shots at two people who were possibly unarmed to get Plain Dealer reporters to go into East Cleveland? [Note: the passenger's death has just been ruled a homicide.] If that scene repeats itself twelve months from now, it may be like a tree falling in a Forest City with no one around to hear.