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Plain Dealer Staff, Hoping to Avoid Newsroom Cuts, Offer Counter Proposal

The headquarters of Advance Ohio, formerly the Plain Dealer's newsroom, on Superior Avenue in Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
A building, several stories tall with a glass, brick, and concrete facade.

Staffers at the Plain Dealer are hoping to stop its parent company, Advance Publications, from eliminating roughly a third of its unionized newsroom employees and “outsourcing” those jobs to an out-of-town location that would provide those services to multiple Advance-owned newspapers. 

The PD News Guild—which represents 68 employees including reporters, copy editors, designers, photographers, and illustrators—has presented an alternative proposal to the paper’s management, which they say will save the money and preserve in-house jobs. Copy Editor Wendy McManamon, who leads the Guild, said they expect to have a response before the year’s end.

The paper's Editor and President George Rodrigue didn't respond to ideastream’s request for comment. However, Rodrigue recently told Scene Magazine that the proposal to eliminate and outsource certain newsroom functions was driven by financial pressures facing the publication. 

“Experience has shown that this system can allow centralized teams to produce pages for multiple papers far more economically than freestanding teams generally produce pages for individual papers,” he said.

If the Plain Dealer follows through on that plan, 23 employees, mostly copy editors and page designers, could see their jobs eliminated, McManamon said. 

It was late October when Plain Dealer staffers first heard about the proposal. McManamon, who has worked at the Plain Dealer for some 17 years, said the outsourcing strategy ultimately degrades the quality of the paper by shrinking the newsroom.

“Since 2008, they've cut and they've cut and they've cut,” McManamon said. “I don't see how they can cut more without cutting vital organs.” She declined to say where the jobs could be moved to, citing ongoing negotiations with management. 

Advance Publications is far from the only company that has looked to consolidating certain newsroom functions in order to save money on newspaper production. 

In 2016, Cox Media Group Ohio, which owns the Dayton Daily News, laid off 27 employees when it outsourced its in-house copy editors and designers. 

GateHouse Media, which took over the Akron Beacon Journal this past year, has an office in Austin, Texas, which serves as a central hub for copy editing and page design for some 200 of its newspapers around the country. Other large media companies that have adopted the consolidation strategy include Gannett, Tribune Media, and McClatchy. 

Local news will suffer if the people editing and fact-checking it don't live here, especially when the stories deal with sensitive or complicated local issues, McManamon said. Citing a recent story about economic transformation and racial tensions in Euclid, she said that such stories benefit from having copy editors who live in the region because they are more attuned to the needs and sensibilities of the readers. 

“The care that we take,” she said, “the institutional knowledge, the institutional heart. You just can’t do that out of town.”