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April 4, 2012

Pros, cons of The Plain Dealer's demise

Pro: PD must retain circulation

Con: Print is dead, PD should focus on Web

By Patrick Elder

“Don’t let Cleveland’s daily paper fade away.” This is the slogan seen in ads on television, billboards and shirts alike, imploring Clevelanders to save a dying institution from corporate greed. The Plain Dealer, owned by parent company Advance Publications, will be cut down to 110 Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild members on May 1, leaving only two-thirds of the current workforce behind. These cuts jeopardize the state of journalism in Northeast Ohio, and leave the public dangerously ill-informed.

That’s why it may come as a shock when I say that I think the cuts don’t go far enough.

Perhaps I should say they aren’t the correct cuts. So much of the activism for saving the Plain Dealer comes from those who wish to see it continue to be printed seven days-a-week. These activists, though well-intentioned, ignore the true problem. The Plain Dealer doesn’t do enough to connect to its readers in a modern way.

The future of journalism lies not in print, but online. By bolstering its online presence – a modern website with full integration with multimedia, a smartphone app, a tablet app and a strong presence on every social media site – and completely cutting out print, the Plain Dealer could reinvent itself and lead the charge on local papers adapting to the digital age.

No one with a desire for a highly developed, thriving media system wants to see qualified journalists lose their jobs.

But maybe the Plain Dealer isn’t the only place for journalism in Cleveland. If the Plain Dealer doesn’t effectively make the transition from print publication to online publication, then its death is inevitable. But that death wouldn’t spell the end of journalism in Cleveland. It would spell the beginning of a new era of journalism. An online era.

The struggle for the survival of the Plain Dealer in print is like ignoring the rope ladder dangling from an overhead helicopter because you’re trying to find the best branch to float on as you swiftly approach an impending waterfall. Even if you find a yacht to ride, you won’t be saved unless you grab the ladder and get off the river.

Print is a dying medium, its usefulness limited to personal preference and nostalgia. The feel of holding newspaper in hand, flipping through the softly crinkling pages as the smell of fresh ink wafts from the page, has kept many readers enamored with the medium of print. Is it truly a worthwhile endeavor to jeopardize the future of journalism for the fleeting, faltering satisfaction of reading print?

While the accessibility of the internet rapidly eases, the usefulness of print is disappearing.

If those leading the charge for the Plain Dealer to keep printing seven days-a-week truly cared about the state of journalism in Cleveland, they would realize the foolishness of their quest and come at this problem from a different angle. Journalism doesn’t need newspapers to survive; newspapers need journalism to survive.

What Cleveland truly needs in order for local journalism to thrive is a robust online presence. Instead of focusing efforts on maintaining a dying status quo, we should be focusing on getting a jump on the future.

Print will die; we shouldn’t let journalism die with it.