Update on Plain Dealer, Free Times & Scene Happening

Submitted by Roldo on Fri, 06/20/2008 - 11:32.

Here is a good account of the alternative newspaper sale from John Ettorre on Working with Words. It helps fill out the details of the story:

Friday, June 20, 2008: Just as the Plain Dealer is About To Undergo Yet Another Round of Cutbacks in Coverage, Alternative Weekly Landscape in Cleveland Gets a Serious Overhaul, With Purchase and Merger of Two Ailing Alternative Weeklies

Just two years after the Plain Dealer underwent a serious cutback in its editorial staff, which resulted in more than 60 newsroom employees accepting generous buyouts, the paper is again looking at further cuts in editorial space as well as staff. Last week, Roldo Bartimole broke the story of the latest cutbacks, which was picked up nationally via a link from the widely read Romenesko website, but until this morning the paper hasn't acknowledged that such plans were in the works (finally, publisher Terry Egger did so this morning on public radio station WCPN, on a show hosted by PD columnist Regina Brett, though he was tentative and refused to be pinned down about any details).

Against that backdrop, the news came this morning like an earthquake, via a press release, that the city's two ailing alternative weeklies, which have been locked in a grueling war of attrition for years, have been purchased by a once-modest but increasingly prominent newspaper chain (based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, of all places) and will be merged shortly, under the name Scene. While the Scene got the name (and the new paper will be located in the Scene's current space), the more important choice is that the Free Times' publisher will become publisher of the new operation, which suggests that paper will get much the upper hand in the merged entity, presumably including staffing choices.

A consolidation of Cleveland alt-weeklies has been tried before, in 2002, but was blocked by the U.S. Justice Department on antitrust grounds. The Free Times, then owned by the chain which also owned the granddaddy of American alternative weeklies, the venerable Village Voice of New York, colluded with the New Times chain (considered by some as the Evil Empire of the industry) to stop competing in Cleveland and L.A., carving up the markets and awarding one town to each. Even the ethics-challenged Bush Justice Department could tell that didn't pass the smell test, and moved to block it. Tim Rutten, then the media writer for the Los Angeles Times, did a heroic job of covering the story, breaking one development after another (eventually the NYT's David Carr, a veteran of alt-weeklies, caught up), thus adding even more pressure on the government.

The deal was eventually stopped, a consent decree was signed by both parties, and the papers went back to competing in a town, Cleveland, whose economy really can't support two healthy alt-weeklies.

The Justice Department has continued to monitor the situation until recently, as former FT editor David Eden noted to the PD several months ago. Presumably, this new deal has at least the tacit blessing of the Justice Department.

Times-Shamrock Communications, which would be the new owner should the deal close, is not exactly a household name. But it does own and run some familiar names. The Detroit Metro Times and Baltimore City Paper have long, proud traditions in their markets, and by all accounts, Times-Shamrock has been doing a reasonably enlightened job of operating them in an increasingly tough environment (alt weeklies have been hurt badly by the web, just as print dailies have). All that bodes well for how they would run the Cleveland paper.

UPDATE: Cleveland.com story is here, Crain's account is here.

UPDATE #2: Thanks to Jim Romenesko for the link to this posting (and welcome to Romenesko readers), which he posted mid-day along with the link to the Cleveland.com story. I've earned some Romenesko links in the past for media columns in the Free Times, and of course appreciated them greatly, but never before for anything written on this blog. We're honored.

UPDATE #3: Editor & Publisher magazine posted this article about the growing internal PD turmoil over expected cuts. Ironically, WKYC, which seems so interested in covering the PD's employment cutbacks, doesn't seem to have told its audience about its own recent reduction in personnel. It too has cut some jobs (as many as 10 people, we're told, including reporter Vic Gideon, a popular, longtime fixture in the Cleveland electronic media), no doubt a result of the mounting financial woes of its owner, the Gannett chain. If the station has covered this (please let me know, anyone), I'll be thrilled to apologize and correct the record. But I'd also likely pass out from shock.

Big news on the Plain Dealer, Free Times & Scene.

PD reporters are reacting to the bad news of cutbacks – probably right now – outside the paper by carrying black balloons to commemorate the downsizing of the paper and the staff.
And today an announcement was made of the acquisition of the Free Times and Scene with the intent to soon combine the two alternatives into a single weekly free newspaper.
Some PD reporters rejected the idea, feeling it was an inappropriate time for a black balloon display.

Here is the press release from Frank Lewis, editor of the Free Times detailing the combination of the two alternatives:

Times-Shamrock buys Two Alternatives in Cleveland

Friday, June 21: Times-Shamrock Communications today announced the acquisition of the Cleveland Scene and the Cleveland Free Times, alternative newsweeklies separately owned by Village Voice Media and Times Publishing Co. of Erie, Pa., respectively.

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The deal is to close on June 25.

The two alternative publications will continue to publish separately for their next three issues and then merge into a single newsweekly, the "Scene," on July 23, according to Don Farley, publisher of the Alternative Group for Times-Shamrock Communications.

Mr. Farley said that Matt Fabyan, publisher of the Free Times, will be publisher of the combined Scene newsweekly.

"This is a great addition to our existing group of alternative newsweeklies," Mr. Farley said. "We look forward to serving the greater Cleveland community for many, many years."

The Scene and Free Times each has won dozens of awards from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, the Cleveland Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Times Publishing Co. has owned the Free Press since 2003. Village Voice Media, the nation's largest publisher of alternative weeklies, has owned the Scene since 1998.

Scene will be Times-Shamrock's fifth alternative newsweekly. Times-Shamrock, which is wholly owned by the Lynett and Haggerty families of Scranton, Pa., also publishes alternative newspapers in Baltimore, Detroit, San Antonio and Orlando.

Times-Shamrock also owns eight daily newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; community weekly newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Upstate New York; and radio stations in Scranton, Baltimore, Tulsa, Reno and Milwaukee.

Events are moving rather fast on the newspaper front, especially when you consider that this is close to the anniversary - 26 years ago – when the Cleveland Press was put out of business and the Plain Dealer became a monopoly paper.

Today I turned to the Metro pages in the PD to find two entire pages with news stories from Columbus and other Ohio cities, leaving me wondering if the paper should be called the Ohio Dealer.

( categories: )

good way to save trees, but what about journalists?

Boy, oh boy! The newsprint media is in free fall. I hope some of my preferred writers have a parachute.

Since the PD so often take a "step and fetch it" tone as regards the local developer community and the democratic party's reign here in NEO (something that resembles a monarchy at times) and they seem to get their health news from the Cleveland Clinic direct from press releases/newsmercials, investigative journalism will need to get a booster shot to survive. Phew!

Did someone alert Noah of this impending drought for news? Or out another way, did someone tell Noah that it was going to rain job losses for journaists for forty days and forty nights?

Electronic memory

When the Free Times first died in 2002, all of the online indexing and archive of articles died with it.  Expect the same to happen in July. 

Fortunately, the articles are preserved on microfilm at Cleveland Public Library.  Preservation of local history is what libraries should do well.  Call 623-2910 for more information.

The death of the Plain Dealer

Let the Plain Dealer die.

I know that sounds harsh, but the management there should know that they are in a terminal decline, not a temporary one. Closing the PD now would be more honest, since that is probably the long term fate of the paper even if it fights on.

Ask yourself a simple question: Would Cleveland be any worse without the Plain Dealer? What if anything does the daily paper contribute to the city? Don't ask what it could contribute, but what it does. 

Considering how many of the postings on Realneo are about how local citizens are uninformed about the workings of local government or about how the paper is useless to the citizenry, why not let it die?

It would be an interesting expirement to see how a major metro area could function without a daily paper.


Long dead and gone--the paper stopped fact checking a long time ago and my many calls to change the information submitted on the recently approved Denison Elderly project listed as GREEN, went completely unheeded. 

The Metro mailbox is full. I have emailed, too.  And, when I called the city department that released the press information, which listed the project as a rehab/rental (it's a complete demolition, new construction on fill with sanitary tie-ins to an antiquated combined sanitary/storm sewer system.  How is that GREEN?), they said it was a minor mistake.  Misinformation is okay in everybody's book around here.

Plain Dealer will be shut or go digital-end of next year

This news from Time, via Yahoo:

The 10 Major Newspapers That Will Either Fold or Go Digital Next

10. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is in one of the economically weakest markets in the country. Its parent, Advance Publications, has already threatened to close its paper in Newark. Employees gave up enough in terms of concessions to keep the paper open. Advance, owned by the Newhouse family, is carrying the burden of its paper plus Conde Nast, its magazine group which is losing advertising revenue. The Plain Dealer will be shut or go digital by the end of next year.


We have our jobs cut out for us

It is hard to imagine a region like this - a city like Cleveland - without some sort of organized news source, which would not ever be Cleveland.com...

Looks like a job for real co-op info.

Disrupt IT