Days after layoffs, remaining Plain Dealer staff told they will no longer cover Cleveland, Cuyahoga County news

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — After 22 staff members in The Plain Dealer’s newsroom were laid off last week, the remaining 14 were notified Monday night that most will no longer be covering news in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County or for the state of Ohio.

According to a statement by the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild Local 1, editor Tim Warsinskey said the current 14 staff members would “with a few exceptions, become a bureau covering five outlying counties: Geauga, Lake Lorain, Medina and Portage.”

With the move, reporters being moved off their beats include:

— Laura DeMarco, arts and life
— John Petkovic, arts and life
— Michelle Jarboe, real estate and development
— Patrick O’Donnell, state and local education
— Ginger Christ, health/hospitals
— Rachel Dissell, investigative/enterprise
— John Caniglia, investigative/enterprise
— Greg Burnett, features/Friday Magazine

Photographers Gus Chan and Lisa DeJong will not be permitted to photograph Cuyahoga County, according to the statement.

**Read the full statement below**

The Guild stated the move “can only be interpreted as a way to punish people for belonging to a union. The company is choosing to switch reporters who have covered the city and county for decades to new beats and move their well-sourced beats to nonunion reporters at Cleveland.com.

It goes on to say: “This decision is a loss for the people of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County who care about in-depth and solutions-based reporting that Plain Dealer reporters have consistently provided in recent years and a win for public officials and others who don’t want their misdeeds uncovered.”

Warsinskey released the following statement to FOX 8:

“There are two separate, but related, newsrooms in Cleveland, and two outstanding news products – The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com.  Together, they serve the market well – with The Plain Dealer stories appearing online at cleveland.com and cleveland.com stories appearing in print in The Plain Dealer, an approach that has been in place since separate newsrooms were established in 2013.

By design, this approach helps provide thoughtful, impactful coverage in the most efficient way possible and ensures that Greater Cleveland has more access to local journalism via digital platforms as demand for those platforms continues to grow.

Today, there are 77 journalists and content creators in these newsrooms covering Greater Cleveland, doing outstanding reporting, writing stories and creating content that our readers want and deserve.  This number is comparable to the staffs in similarly-sized metro areas in Ohio and across the country. But it’s not just about the numbers of journalists we have on hand. It’s how they are deployed to create a broad base of coverage for all of the communities we serve in Greater Cleveland. 

On Monday, The Plain Dealer shared a new reporting focus with the members of its newsroom, one that offers to bring high quality local journalism to five counties in Greater Cleveland, and the nearly 1 million people who live in them. Lake, Geauga, Portage, Medina and Lorain counties have been underserved by media in this market for years despite making up a large percentage of The Plain Dealer’s subscription base.

The Plain Dealer, along with our sister company Cleveland.com, has an opportunity to change that with The Plain Dealer’s new focus on these five nearby counties. This broadening of our coverage area is especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when all of our readers, regardless of where they live, deserve to know how the virus is affecting their local communities and how their local communities are responding.

The reporting on this crisis by both The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com reporters and the positive response we’re both getting from readers underscores the value in expanding local journalism across a larger geographic footprint in northeast Ohio. During this pandemic, we have seen new subscriptions come in faster than in recent memory and more people are accessing the e-edition of The Plain Dealer than ever before. Similarly, cleveland.com has doubled the number of readers coming to its site, driven by COVID-19 coverage, and was praised during a press conference by Governor Mike DeWine.

Now, The Plain Dealer is working to increase this type of targeted and impactful local journalism more directly and more efficiently to more people by shifting our focus to cover these five counties. It’s a vision that, despite the challenges and staffing reductions we’ve faced due to the financial pressures in our industry, will effectively expand local journalism in Greater Cleveland and serve more communities.

And, it doesn’t take away from the important coverage of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland City Hall, the court system and criminal justice, and public safety that cleveland.com has been leading since 2013.  Cleveland.com’s reporting on these topics will continue to appear both online and in print as it has for the past seven years. Cleveland.com will also increase its coverage of arts and culture.

One thing that will change with The Plain Dealer’s new reporting focus on the five surrounding counties is that more readers in more of Northeast Ohio will see more stories that are meaningful to them in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com. This next evolution of The Plain Dealer will continue to help us improve upon how we cover the issues that matter to more people for more of our community. 

So, even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing challenges of the news industry, The Plain Dealer will be putting in to practice something I learned very early on as a reporter at The Plain Dealer: The work we do matters, regardless of geography. I hope that my colleagues in Local One of The Newspaper Guild, which represents Plain Dealer reporters and photographers, embrace this evolution of our paper, in keeping with their mission to advance local journalism.

The people we cover and share stories with matter – regardless of where they live and whether or not they are in the urban core. That is the true definition of local journalism.”

On Friday, the The Plain Dealer laid off 22 staff members, including four nonunion managers.

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