‘Plain Dealer’ Publisher Says No Cutbacks … Yet

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By: Joe Strupp

Publisher Terrance Egger of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland has spent nearly two weeks knocking down rumors and press reports that the paper has cut jobs and eliminated pages.

And the speculation continued again today as a local television station reported that “the ax supposedly fell on dozens of jobs” at the paper on Thursday.

Says Egger: “It’s 100% not accurate.”

But that doesn?t mean that jobs won?t be cut and news pages reduced before the end of the summer. “Given the current economic conditions and trends, we cannot maintain the current expense base and stay viable,” Egger told E&P Friday. “The only option is to find new revenue streams and look at expenses — newsprint and the hours of your payroll.”

The rumors and cost-cutting talk began on June 9 when Plain Dealer management met with staff and discussed the need for the paper to cut costs, Egger said. “There are some tough decisions that need to be made, you can?t be na?ve and sugarcoat it,” he said. “We don?t have plans completely finalized yet and it is premature because none of that is final yet.”

But after that meeting, the rumors began and local press outlets took off with a variety of speculation about alleged cutbacks in the works.

Roldo Bartimole, a longtime local alternative reporter, posted an item on his blog the next day that stated: “Top Plain Dealer executives — Publisher Terry Egger and Editor Susan Goldberg — told worried editorial staff members yesterday that the business climate is so bad that the paper plans to cut 35 pages a week from its news pages and 20 percent of its workforce.”

When asked about Egger’s denials, Bartimole backed-up his reporting with this statement to E&P: “Everyone at the Plain Dealer knows what Egger is saying now doesn’t jibe with what he told people in two meetings about a week ago. He told them there would be cuts in pages and staff. If nothing is happening why did some 75 reporters parade outside the PD editorial offices with black balloons at noon today? Egger isn’t playing straight and this makes the news of cuts even more disturbing.”

Bartimole’s original post led Crain’s Cleveland Business to jump on the speculation and cite Bartimole’s reporting in its own story that said, “More editorial content and job cuts could be in store for The Plain Dealer, but publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger says nothing is set in stone after addressing staffers this week about proposed changes.”

Finally, WKYC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cleveland — whose slogan reads, “Report the facts, Respect the truth” — posted an item this morning that speculated about a source saying dozens of jobs had been cut on Thursday, while also citing Bartimole’s report.

“We are looking at options, but stories that we have eliminated jobs are completely inaccurate,” Editor Susan Goldberg told E&P. “I think people are frightened. People are rightly concerned about what is going on in the industry; unfortunately, it gets whipped up into an inaccurate frenzy.”

WKYC later updated its story to include similar denials by Goldberg. She did admit that three part-time newsroom employees, including one reporter, had their hours reduced, but remained on the job.

Still, Egger made clear some kind of cost-cutting is likely in the coming months: “You can’t knee-jerk things, we have to finalize plans through the course of the summer.”

The last Plain Dealer job cuts occurred in 2006 when a buyout resulted in the elimination of 17% of the newsroom staff, which is currently at 304 full-time employees.

When asked if the Plain Dealer would stick to a long-running, unofficial policy by parent company Advance Publications to avoid layoffs in newspaper cuts, Egger said, “we have a culture here we want to respect, the ultimate responsibility is to make sure we continue to publish a newspaper.”

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