June 19th, 2017

[Be sure to listen to Roldo’s talk with Ralph Nader on The Ralph Nader Radio Hour. JH]

In August of 1983—some 34 years ago—I wrote this about the Plain Dealer:

“It’s like a giant whale, beached in shallow water.

Too embarrassing not to look at, too big to give it much help, and too obvious to ignore.

More than a year after the demise of the Cleveland Press, the morning paper, the very Plain Dealer, remains rather rudderless.

It has no spark, no drive, no mission.

‘There’s a lot of bad writing, a lot of bad editing, a lot of bad story selection and big gaps in coverage,’ said a close observer of the daily newspaper.

In one sentence he has summed up the discouraging state of journalism at the city’s only daily newspaper.

What can we say 34 years later? That the paper’s a Lake Erie perch dropped at the door four times a week?

The newspaper is shrinking as the city is shrinking. It may be published daily but it delivers to subscribers four days a week and the product remains shallow and even less relevant. There are minor exceptions from a few reporters as there were then.

Sports pages and sections dominate. Giant photos take up space. Cleveland.com has cute notes as how many beer joints are in the city or 27 things to do this weekend. It’s a mirror of Cleveland Magazine and what are the best suburbs. Why not, it gets clicks.

We look at the paper and notice, at least some do, reports from Plain Dealer reporters, or reporters from Cleveland.com. The public likely doesn’t know the difference.

It’s a divided enterprise. Anyone who was worked in a newspaper city room knows the value of give-and-take among reporters back from various parts of the city. The exchange of information has value in itself.

The two staffs are separated physically. Plain Dealer reporters are housed at Terminal Tower in the Skylight Building. Cleveland.com reporters, including the entire editorial staff, reside in a portion of the redone Plain Dealer building at 1801 Superior Avenue.

Such a division would seem odd and divisive to the PD of 34 years ago.

As one knowledgeable person puts it the division leads to “bad feelings.”

Some believe the division also has an ulterior motive—the end of the Newspaper Guild. The Plain Dealer people are guild members.

The feeling is once the Guild contract ends it will not be renewed. The paper will have a non-union editorial staff.

The Cleveland Newspaper Guild is Local #1 in the historic sense.

The history of the Newspaper Guild notes: “The first local was established in Cleveland. On March 20, 1934.”

The kind of divisiveness can be seen in an e-mail from Chris Quinn, editor and president of Advance/Ohio/Cleveland. Com after a piece I wrote with this paragraph:

Yet this tells me that Betsy Sullivan, Chris Quinn, George Rodrigue are lying about the Quicken Arena deal they strongly back because if they even glance at the figures they should know that it is a significant expansion of the facility with more than half being paid by the public. They want to be ignorant.

Quinn wrote me:

I can’t speak for what appears in The Plain Dealer, but to write that I personally ignored this story is preposterous. We published three separate pieces about it on the website and also had a major presence of Facebook.

Notice that he can’t speak for the Plain Dealer but that’s still what people consider their newspaper. Certainly, not Facebook.

Quinn went on to note of a linked piece:

This piece, which was the lead story on our home page for much of Monday, was viewed 11,000 times and had 279 comments. It reached another 39,000 people on Facebook where it had 93 likes and more than 250 comments…

“So, tell me again how I ignored this major news story,” he concluded.

Give me a break—11,000 views.

Maybe he doesn’t read the PD circulation figures—250,000.

The Plain Dealer is the major daily newspaper of Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It has the largest circulation of any Ohio newspaper and was a top 20 newspaper for Sunday circulation in the United States as of March 2013. —Wikipedia.

I wrote back to him:

If you think this is a one-day story when 20,000 people signed up and the response by Council was unbelievably bogus then you’re not the same guy who once covered city hall.

You should know how hard it is to get civic participation and the handling of this story—where there is some participation—makes the shabby coverage more disgusting.

Sorry but this should be THE big story for this week and I’ll await further coverage… not repetition of the first day and work by columnists and editorials.

From the beginning the PD and the dot com have played a shabby, disgraceful game with the arena story, sheltering Mayor Frank Jackson, Council President Kevin Kelley, County Executive Armond Budish and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Neither the paper nor the web site has truly examined the deal, other than the public relations crap that has come out of government offices and the PR machine at Quicken Arena.

It started early with Quinn’s editorial position.

They continually call the expansion a “makeover” or an “upgrade” that “dramatically alters the facilities appearance…”

No one—not even Mark Naymik, his prized columnist—has taken time to probe this arena deal. Brent Larkin, of all people, wrote the only negative piece on this issue.

The limited figures I’ve squeezed from the County shows more than $14 million for “furniture, fixtures and equipment,” which indicates a hell of a lot more than an “appearance” alteration of the arena.

I’ve noted that the County was prepared to issue three sets of bonds for $35-million, $35-million and $70-million. That’s $140 million. The same County document notes a contribution of $90,000 from the Cavs.

I haven’t seen a word about this in the PD or the Dot Com.

Nor have I seen any real attention to 20,000 signatures that citizens gathered to put the issue of the arena deal to the voters. It was summarily turned down by the city.

No comment about the value of citizen participation. No profiles of the people who put in the work and effort into doing what we all should applaud—involving themselves in public decision-making.

Quinn’s people started with a disgusting editorial early on favoring a continuation of the massive public subsidies for sports.

Here’s the biased editorial’s thrust:

Leave aside the small-minded grousing. [20,000 signatures? —RB] Forget the sideshows about how long ago the Cleveland Cavaliers started agitating for an upgrade to the Q or whether the bond counsel Cuyahoga County has picked for this complex is worth the money. [It is. —RB]. The second guessing is intended to distract attention from the plain and obvious benefits of a $140 million deal Cuyahoga County stuck with the Cavs only after painstaking months-long negotiations. None of the 11th hour finger-pointing can devalue the facts—transparently shared with the public—of an arrangement that will pay dividends for decades without any increase in taxes and that will leave the public with a more valuable asset for half the cost it otherwise would entail…

So said the editorial from Cleveland.com people.

“In other words, SHUT UP. JUST DO IT,” was my response.

The balance of coverage was almost totally toward subsidizing a billionaire.

Editorial pieces were published from Mayor Jackson and Rep. Marcia Fudge, and prominently placed letters to the editor from other pols, all Democrats by the way.

But I’ve seen not a word from any opposition. I get e-mails from the opposition. I’m sure the newspaper does to. Where are the articles reflecting their point of view?

Ignore anything that doesn’t fit the fix. This isn’t bad journalism. It’s not journalism at all. It’s biased promotion.

Quinn’s people hadn’t really looked at the deal. They noted the bond counsel was worth the money. They should know it’s the same bond counsel (Fred Nance) that did the sweetheart Browns stadium deal.

But more important I think were some factors given us by Vince Grzegorek of the Scene recently.
He cites some figures arguing that Quinn and Jackson have a “bromance” going.

Vince writes:

Outside of government officials, Quinn got more face time with Frank Jackson than anyone: 11 individual one-on-one meetings in addition to at least six trips by the mayor to 1801 Superior Ave. to visit the Cleveland.com/Plain Dealer editorial board.

Any sleep-overs?

And he quotes a City Hall source that say, “They have a close relationship.”

Quinn is a good friend to have. Not only does he control the newspaper’s editorial staff, establishment lemmings anyway, but he feels comfortable taking the work of reporters every Friday and explaining everything to the audience at WCPN and WVIZ re-broadcast that evening. He’s the star.

Apparently, he doesn’t believe that those working on the street (or in city hall) should be able to at least get some face time as the worker bees.

The TV and radio shows happen to be hosted by Rick Jackson. He apparently is most happy to have Quinn on board. Jackson’s wife, Brenda Cain, happens to work for Quinn’s Cleveland.com.

Where is George Rodrigue, president and editor of the Plain Dealer? Time we saw some leadership from him.

And for those candidates running against Jackson in September, they better remember they’re running against Quinn, too.

By Roldo Bartimole…


  1. Gloria Hanson says:

    Did public radio or local tv stations give any time to this issue? Does anyone discuss this giant give-away?

  2. Jeff Hess says:


    I know that WCPN has discussed the issue several times during the Sound of Ideas—airing 9 a.m., M-F—but what I’ve heard has been mostly in favor of the deal and dismissive of the opposition.

    You might want to go back and look online at both SOI and Mike Jackson’s WVIZ program to better gauge the response.


  3. MFiala says:

    The problem is pretty obvious. When the media is relatively tight with the politicians, it is almost impossible to challenge them and their shady deals.
    But it’s actually worse than that.
    People of a certain class/power-position (most of the media) generally don’t see beyond their ‘class/power boundaries’; this is the case across both liberal/conservative positions. That’s why the democrats have sold the people of Cleveland down the proverbial (and still grossly polluted) Cuyahoga river and generally get away with it.
    When has it been different? When did politicians ever serve anything other than the people of power?
    Dan Kerr’s book Derelict Paradise describes 130 years of that gross subservience in Cleveland, 1877 to 2007.
    There are exceptions, small ones, un-heard ones, occasionally working people have sounded alternatives.
    The Black community has taken turns at it. Dennis Kucinich, well…..

    Cleveland.com has a new ‘noble’ initiative to ‘get down w the people’ that will fall flat on its face unless the journalists desert their class interests, that is, Cleveland.com’s agenda of pandering to a faux Cleveland urban renaissance … gimme a break.
    . .. unless those journalists get down in the muck and start muck-raking, telling the truth that the emperor (Dan Gilbert and his Q-arena deal and the politicians in his pocket) has no clothes or legs … if you like…
    Nothing will change. …
    I’m not holding my breath.
    But hope never ceases that there can be moments, exceptions. We live by them, I believe.

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