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Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper staff told they can no longer cover Cleveland

File image of The Plain Dealer Building downtown.
Posted at 11:48 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 17:28:24-04

CLEVELAND — The Plain Dealer as we know it is no more. Last week, 22 journalists were laid off. On Monday, the remaining 14 staff members with a few exceptions were told they could no longer cover Cleveland, Cuyahoga County or the state of Ohio.

If you have questions about that arrangement, you're not the only one. Social media is ablaze with journalists and readers expressing disbelief.

According to a Facebook statement released by The Plain Dealer News Guild, Editor Tim Warsinskey told the staff Monday that the remaining employees, with a few exceptions, will become a bureau covering five surrounding counties of Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Portage.

Warsinskey told News 5 in a statement, "On Monday, The Plain Dealer shared a new reporting focus with the members of its newsroom, one that offers to bring high quality local journalism to five counties in Greater Cleveland, and the nearly 1 million people who live in them. Lake, Geauga, Portage, Medina and Lorain counties have been underserved by media in this market for years despite making up a large percentage of The Plain Dealer’s subscription base."

The maneuvering comes against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, with Plain Dealer staffers churning out vital local coverage.

According to the Guild, reporters are barred from covering stories within their beats, including removing Arts and Life reporters Laura DeMarco and John Petkovic, who have covered beats for decades. You can read its full statement below.

According to the statement, the company is switching reporters who have covered the city and county for decades to new beats and in return moving their beats to nonunion reporters at Cleveland.com.

Read Warsinskey's full statement:

There are two separate, but related, newsrooms in Cleveland, and two outstanding news products – The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Together, they serve the market well – with The Plain Dealer stories appearing online at cleveland.com and cleveland.com stories appearing in print in The Plain Dealer, an approach that has been in place since separate newsrooms were established in 2013.

By design, this approach helps provide thoughtful, impactful coverage in the most efficient way possible and ensures that Greater Cleveland has more access to local journalism via digital platforms as demand for those platforms continues to grow.

Today, there are 77 journalists and content creators in these newsrooms covering Greater Cleveland, doing outstanding reporting, writing stories and creating content that our readers want and deserve. This number is comparable to the staffs in similarly-sized metro areas in Ohio and across the country. But it’s not just about the numbers of journalists we have on hand. It’s how they are deployed to create a broad base of coverage for all of the communities we serve in Greater Cleveland.

On Monday, The Plain Dealer shared a new reporting focus with the members of its newsroom, one that offers to bring high quality local journalism to five counties in Greater Cleveland, and the nearly 1 million people who live in them. Lake, Geauga, Portage, Medina and Lorain counties have been underserved by media in this market for years despite making up a large percentage of The Plain Dealer’s subscription base.

The Plain Dealer, along with our sister company Cleveland.com, has an opportunity to change that with The Plain Dealer’s new focus on these five nearby counties. This broadening of our coverage area is especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when all of our readers, regardless of where they live, deserve to know how the virus is affecting their local communities and how their local communities are responding.

The reporting on this crisis by both The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com reporters and the positive response we’re both getting from readers underscores the value in expanding local journalism across a larger geographic footprint in northeast Ohio. During this pandemic, we have seen new subscriptions come in faster than in recent memory and more people are accessing the e-edition of The Plain Dealer than ever before. Similarly, cleveland.com has doubled the number of readers coming to its site, driven by COVID-19 coverage, and was praised during a press conference by Governor Mike DeWine.

Now, The Plain Dealer is working to increase this type of targeted and impactful local journalism more directly and more efficiently to more people by shifting our focus to cover these five counties. It’s a vision that, despite the challenges and staffing reductions we’ve faced due to the financial pressures in our industry, will effectively expand local journalism in Greater Cleveland and serve more communities.

And, it doesn’t take away from the important coverage of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland City Hall, the court system and criminal justice, and public safety that cleveland.com has been leading since 2013. Cleveland.com’s reporting on these topics will continue to appear both online and in print as it has for the past seven years. Cleveland.com will also increase its coverage of arts and culture.

One thing that will change with The Plain Dealer’s new reporting focus on the five surrounding counties is that more readers in more of Northeast Ohio will see more stories that are meaningful to them in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com. This next evolution of The Plain Dealer will continue to help us improve upon how we cover the issues that matter to more people for more of our community.

So, even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing challenges of the news industry, The Plain Dealer will be putting in to practice something I learned very early on as a reporter at The Plain Dealer: The work we do matters, regardless of geography. I hope that my colleagues in Local One of The Newspaper Guild, which represents Plain Dealer reporters and photographers, embrace this evolution of our paper, in keeping with their mission to advance local journalism.

The people we cover and share stories with matter – regardless of where they live and whether or not they are in the urban core. That is the true definition of local journalism.

RELATED: Cleveland Plain Dealer cutting 22 jobs