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April 4, 2013

Pros, cons of The Plain Dealer's demise

Con: Print is dead, PD should focus on Web

Pro: PD must retain circulation

By James Ryan

The debate between print and online journalism has finally hit Cleveland’s front door. The Plain Dealer will be reduced to a three-day per week newspaper, and one-third of its newsroom staff will be fired this year.

New Jersey based company Advance Publications has no interest in selling the Plain Dealer, nor are these cutbacks its first go at slashing a city’s daily circulation and staff. They laid off approximately 600 employees from the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Alabama newspapers, while cutting those newspapers down to three days in 2012.

Three arguments must be made seeing as time is still left on the clock. We need more journalists, not less. We need a daily circulation, and yes, we need print news.

The case for more journalists is simple. The quality of the Plain Dealer will go down if there are fewer reporters covering serious issues in Cleveland. With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialized beats, journalists’ level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story will be compromised.

According to one Pew Research Center study, nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31 percent, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the quality news they were accustomed to getting. The analysis also stated that 48 percent named less complete stories while 31 percent mostly noticed fewer stories.

These stats show that people care about quality and getting complete coverage. Real journalism has been missing, and it’s my suspicion that my generation’s short attention span is to blame. Cutbacks and low sales have forced journalists to bury the art of in-depth investigation to appease young, prospective consumers.

All of this pressure to write fluff comes from the companies who own newspaper outlets like the Plain Dealer.

With quality journalism on the decline – how much worse will the coverage be if Advance Publications cuts one-third of the Plain Dealer’s staff? The Plain Dealer will become nothing more than a three-day Facebook post in print.

The PD’s brand image will suffer if newsroom staff is reduced, and overtly if daily circulation is cut. Like the argument made above, people desire quality. Shrinking from a daily circluation to a three-day circulation will depreciate and discredit the Plain Dealer.

People will seek their news elsewhere during the days the Plain Dealer isn’t running, and eventually seek those same news outlets when the Plain Dealer is running.
It’s clear. The Plain Dealer needs to retain its newsroom staff and daily circulation if its quality reputation is to remain intact. But it doesn’t end there. Cleveland needs print news.

Two University of Texas Researchers proved that less than a quarter of paid print subscribers visit a newspaper’s website.

Iris Chyi and Seth Lewis examined 68 local newspapers with websites and compared how well the two formats reached local residents. Using comScore metrics, Chyi and Lewis calculated that the newspaper websites reached only 15 percent of local Internet users. Only 24 percent of the sites reached more than a fifth of the local Internet users.

The Web penetration averaged 23 percent of the newspaper’s paid circulation. The study was published in the fall edition of Newspaper Research Journal.

Local newspaper outlets nationwide struggle to attain online readership. Show newspaper subscribers no love and they’ll show you none in return.