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Plain Dealer employees vote on new contract this week
Pact does not address three-day printing schedule at PD's sister paper
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
In The Region:
The union representing the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s newsroom is voting this week on a new six-year contract. The package includes layoffs and raises, but makes no mention of cutting back on printed editions to three or four days a week. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia has more on what the contract likely will mean to newsgathering in Northeast Ohio.
Plain Dealer employees vote on new contract this week

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Earlier this year, the PD’s sister paper, cut back print editions of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to three days a week. Owner Advance Publications cited waning demand, and is also cutting back on papers in Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.

Rumors of a similar move in Cleveland are not addressed by the paper’s proposed contract with its newsroom employees. But however many days it prints, it will be doing it with fewer people. 

Layoffs next year
The new pact calls for 58 layoffs next year, and up to five more in 2014. That’s about a third of the current staff. Newspaper Guild President Harlan Spector says the new deal also supplants some seniority.

“The company has said that of the 58 positions they want to eliminate next year in the Guild, they want to decide who’s going to go. They don’t want to offer buyouts. You know, we tried to get that; we pushed for a number of things. Some of which we succeeded on. Some of which we failed on. We got the best deal we could for our members. We bargained for two weeks. And remember, this doesn’t count management. They could also make other additional layoffs in management.”

Some of those folks could end up at the PD’s online arm, Cleveland.com. The new contract allows the print and web newsrooms to share more content than before. But Spector says that could present its own set of journalistic challenges. 

“The question about clicks-driven journalism is, ‘Who are you serving?’ Does the high-click, high-volume stuff supplant serious journalism that doesn’t necessarily get the clicks? I think those are all really legitimate questions and serious questions for the field of journalism.”

Web and print mix
For years, Cleveland.com has been driven by content from the Plain Dealer. The new deal opens up the sharing the other way, with greater flexibility for management to use on-line content in the printed paper.

During negotiations, the Guild mounted a public campaign focusing on fears that the paper was heading toward three-day publication. That’s not in the contract – but not blocked by the contract either.

What's not being covered
Julie Moos has covered the negotiations for the Poynter Institute and says it’s too soon to gauge the long-term effects of the reduced publications in other cities. 

“Well, we don’t know about any corruption that was not uncovered because news organizations scaled back the staff that could have been investigating and uncovering them. That’s part of what’s scary about a change like this. One of the things that’s sort of unspoken sometimes is that even if you get your news online, a lot of that still originates with a traditional news organization. So you don’t know how much of that you’re going to lose by cutting the capacity of the reporting. Whether they’re delivering seven days or printing seven days or not.” 

On the financial end, the tentative contract restores a pay that was cut in 2009 and adds some severance benefits, though it continues some unpaid furlough days.

The new contract will be voted on Tuesday. If it’s defeated, the paper faces layoffs of at least 80 people. Spector says most employees consider it a bitter pill, but says it beats the alternative.
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