No surprises in Cleveland departure p.17

By: Joe Strupp Plain Dealer editor leaves after seven years because of strained relationship

Staff and followers of the Cleveland Plain Dealer say the recent resignation of editor David Hall is not a surprise given his strained relationship with publisher Alex Machaskee and recent tussles with Cleveland Mayor Michael White, a Machaskee friend.
Hall's departure also comes at a time when the paper, owned by Advance Publications of New York, is losing readers, reducing its layout size to cut costs, and facing criticism of poor coverage from some community leaders.
Although Hall, Machaskee, and other newspaper brass discount that problems drove Hall to leave, Cleveland observers say the end of Hall's seven-year reign was not unexpected.
"There were problems between Machaskee and Hall for some time," says a former Plain Dealer writer who left for greener pastures. "A lot of people felt that the paper had gotten too soft and had gotten away from hard news and that wasn't the publisher's desire."
Frank Kuznik, editor of the New Times-owned alternative weekly Cleveland Scene, says the friction began when Hall was hired. He says his appointment as editor came with the blessing of Newhouse Newspapers, which is now owned by Advance, but not with Machaskee's approval.
"It was clear that he did not have the backing of the publisher," says Kuznik. "What happened to David Hall would have happened to anyone in that situation."
Roldo Bartimole, a columnist for the alternative Cleveland Free Times, who predicted Hall's resignation in a column two weeks ago, says Hall's departure also follows renewed criticism from readers.
"People are down on the newspaper. They find that it doesn't give you information about Cleveland."
Hall dismisses such viewpoints. "There has never been a disagreement between Alex and me over where the newspaper ought to be headed," Hall says. "Everything I have ever wanted to do, I have been given the resources to do."
Machaskee, the paper's nine-year publisher and a Plain Dealer employee since 1960, says Hall is leaving on his own terms to pursue other opportunities and blasted speculation that the newspaper was facing problems.
"I think David has a very fine journalism mind, and I'm sure it will be of great benefit to him," Machaskee says. "We've made a number of improvements in the newspaper."
Circulation has slipped in recent years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which reports that the Plain Dealer went from 408,000 daily readers in 1993 to 382,000 last year. Sunday readership also dropped, from 548,000 to 492,000, over the same period.
In addition, the newspaper shrunk its broadsheet layout from 53 inches to 50 inches two months ago, according to Machaskee, who declines to disclose how much money the move saved but says it did not reduce news space.
Machaskee boasts that the newspaper opened a $200 million printing plant in 1994 and is about to break ground on a new $38 million headquarters that will house more than 1,000 employees. Newspaper officials also say the number of newsroom employees has grown from 270 in 1982 ? when the last daily competitor, The Cleveland Press, closed ? to 410 today, while three new suburban bureaus have been open for eight years.
"The Plain Dealer under David Hall has seen a lot of significant accomplishments," says vice president Robert Long. "We have always looked after the public interest, and we did a lot of that with him."
Some city leaders, such as Sam Miller, who owns Forest City Enterprises, a major Cleveland company, say the newspaper is as good as ever. "I think it serves the community well," he says.
But other Cleveland insiders contend that Hall's relationship with Machaskee and Mayor White has been tainted at best and has adversely affected news coverage.
Kuznik adds that Hall's relationship with Machaskee worsened when Hall complained to Mayor White that City Hall news was being kept from reporters. "He tried to get better access and that didn't sit well," Kuznik says.
In a recent column, Bartimole writes that Machaskee criticized Hall for comments he made about White. The piece also indicates that White has shown a reluctance to discuss newspaper-city issues with Hall and instead goes through Machaskee.
Hall admits to having a "falling out and a couple of temper tantrums" with the mayor but says it has been put behind them. White's press secretary Nancy Lesic declined to comment on Hall's relationship with the mayor other than to say he "wished him well."
City Hall sources, however, say that Hall's relationship with the mayor has been strained and that the two have had several disagreements and "angry encounters" over Plain Dealer coverage.
Machaskee denies that his relationship with the mayor played into Hall's departure. "That has nothing to do with the operation in the newsroom," he says.
Hall's career has spanned editing positions at the Hackensack, N.J., Record, The Denver Post, the former Chicago Daily News, and the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. During his time in Denver, the newspaper, then owned by Times Mirror Co., won a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for public service.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Scroll the Latest Job Opportunities From The Media Job Board