School of Communication

Alex Machaskee's Remarks:
Communicating in the 21st Century

Celebration of Inaugural Year - CSU School of Communication Cleveland State University Waetjen Auditorium Monday, May 2, 2005 - 12:30pm
Alex Machaskee

Thank you, Michael, for that wonderful introduction … You are too kind; I am really just a gypsy musician with a paper route!

I would like to welcome all of you and thank you for being here today. I am pleased that we have such a great turnout to celebrate the inaugural year of Cleveland State's new School of Communication. Please allow me to congratulate President Michael Schwartz, Rick Perloff, director of the School of Communication, Jae-Won Lee, director of the journalism division at the school, as well as the faculty and others involved in the creation of the School, for acknowledging the importance of the study of communication. I will speak in a few minutes about the status of communication in today's world and how we at The Plain Dealer have evolved to manage this ever-changing subject.

First, let me mention that your new program is extremely important to us at The Plain Dealer. Over 50% of our journalists are recruited from local universities. By elevating the status of Cleveland State's program, you have enhanced our ability to hire top-notch people right in our own backyard! And hopefully, your graduates will be encouraged to remain in Cleveland and help to address the "brain drain."

The Plain Dealer has long been a supporter of Cleveland State and the former Fenn College. In fact, many of you may not know that The Plain Dealer played a role in the establishment of this state university. Back in the early '60's when James Rhodes was Governor, Fenn College was experiencing financial problems. The college called upon the state to develop a state university. At the same time Rhodes was looking to The Plain Dealer for support in a statewide educational bond issue. We agreed to support his bond issue if he would create an inner-city university. In 1964 Rhodes signed legislation creating Ohio's seventh state university, using Fenn College as its nucleus.

My alma mater has certainly come a long way since I enrolled in Fenn College. During the course of my studies, Cleveland State University was born and it was exciting to be a part of this new and growing institution. I went to school part-time, attending four nights a week after work, scrambling to find a place to park and earning my fair share of parking tickets, like many of you. I even attended classes in a Quonset hut and other makeshift classrooms while CSU was being built.

By the latter part of 1966 I was the newspaper's promotion director while at the same time studying for a marketing degree at CSU. During this time The Plain Dealer was in an all-out circulation war with the Cleveland Press and I was heading up the marketing effort. I had a professor in a marketing course who was trying to teach the "hog-corn ratio." I am not quite sure when you sell hogs versus corn, but I did figure out how to sell more newspapers than our competition!

One of my favorite professors was also an engineer at NASA. He announced on the first day of our quantitative methods class that he did not believe in final exams -- and we, of course, applauded his innovative thinking. Actually, what he told us is that he did not want to measure his success or failure as an instructor based on our grades. We went through the whole quarter working very hard on assigned projects, secure in the knowledge that we did not have to deal with a final exam at the end. On the second to the last night of class, though, we walked into the classroom and saw a sheet of paper, face down, on each of our desks. My first thought, and I am sure everyone else's, was that we had been hoodwinked and that there on our desks lay a "pop" final. But the prof was true to his word -- the papers turned out to be flyers asking for our choice of wiener schnitzel or salisbury steak at a popular local restaurant on our last night of class.

I went with the schnitzel. I have changed quite a bit since those days, and so has Cleveland State -- we have both expanded!

Michael Schwartz came on board as Cleveland State's fifth president in 2002 and took responsibility for "waking a sleeping giant." In addition to the establishment of a School of Communication, he is responsible for many positive changes, including a new Master Plan aimed at creating a more residential campus and boosting enrollment. Cleveland State is one of our area's treasures and has the potential to be an even more important community resource. The changes taking place at CSU will not only create a more appealing campus for the students, but for the Greater Cleveland community as well.

In order to attract the best and the brightest students to Cleveland, President Schwartz raised the bar for its admissions. He has future plans, as he states, to "help students graduate, not just enroll" at Cleveland State. This is so critical today. Revitalizing Cleveland State and polishing its image is a goal for President Schwartz and CSU's faculty. Ensuring student success is a vital component to Northeast Ohio's growth. We all thank you, Michael, for the improvements that you have made and continue to make to this fine university.

It is difficult to know where to begin when speaking of communication in the 21st century. This is a field that continuously changes … minute by minute. It is amazing to think about how we ever got along in the past without tools like the Internet, computers and cell phones. Even the telephone is almost passe these days - now we are sending e-mails and text messaging …. means of communication that we never heard of not too long ago.

I have a historical perspective based on my situation in the newspaper industry that started in my youth. My first newspaper "job" was actually as a volunteer -- taking sports scores two nights a week at the Tribune-Chronicle in my hometown of Warren, Ohio. Correspondents called in their scores from various schools and I manually filled out a form with the pertinent information and passed it along. After just two months I was hired part-time to replace a sports reporter who had gone into the military -- and I actually got to cover sports and was able to claim my first by-line at the age of 15! I can vividly remember covering a football game in Painesville when I had to walk on the field in the snow writing my play-by-play on a pad. Now that work is done by statisticians in a warm, dry press box. And rather than carrying typewriters and telefax machines and hunting for phone lines to file a story, it is much more efficient for our writers to have laptops and cell phones. They can file their articles right into our main system where an in-house editor can access a reporter's work.

Newspapers do so much more than present the "who, what, where, when, why and how" of the day's events. And we continually strive to maintain our competitive advantages in the marketplace. The traditional newspaper remains -- and I am convinced, will remain a vital source of communication through its news, editorial comment, features and advertising for tens of millions of people every day.

Industry sources report that nationally about 112 million people read the newspaper daily. The numbers are even more impressive on Sunday, when some 127 million Americans spend part of their day with their newspaper.

The Plain Dealer has average readership of over 870,000 daily and over 1.1 million on Sunday. Despite the fact that we have raised our price and we are in a contracting market and a poor economic situation, our readership is holding up compared to our last survey in 2000. Where we have daily competition such as in Lake and Lorain counties, our readership is up and our competitors' readership is down.

Yet with so many things competing for people's limited time and attention, all newspapers must constantly reinvent themselves in order to ensure their continuing role as a primary provider of information.

The Plain Dealer has published a daily newspaper for over 163 years. And while many of the fundamentals of our work are essentially the same as they were more than a century and a half ago, our role in communicating in the 21st century is continually evolving.

We have spent the past decade and more investing in the resources and facilities necessary to meet changing needs for communications in a changing world - from enhanced news and feature content for readers to expanded opportunities for advertisers, and from a state-of-the-art production facility to a new office building for our employees in the heart of downtown Cleveland. And we have embraced the Internet and other forms of technology as new tools to communicate with and serve our various audiences.

I would like to take a few minutes to talk to you about The Plain Dealer's ongoing evolution in communication. Our goal has always been to create an information resource that competitors - traditional or emerging - cannot match in terms of breadth and depth.

When we set out more than a decade ago to "reinvent" The Plain Dealer, we determined that we needed to produce a more relevant newspaper to communicate with current and potential readers and that we had to create the capability to provide quality color reproduction for our readers and advertisers, better packaging and more opportunities for target marketing.

Key to the strategy we developed was the "reallocation of resources" from inefficient manufacturing and distribution activities to areas that would improve the content of the newspaper.

We knew that enhancing our core product was the most essential component of our strategy. After all, the finest facilities and technologies in the world mean nothing unless the quality of the content is there.

So we added or enhanced a number of editorial features and sections aimed at communicating with specific demographic targets, including minorities, women and younger readers. And we have been constantly refining our news and features presentations ever since.

We also opened news bureaus in outlying counties as part of our commitment to serving the communities in our primary circulation area.

Not only did we change our newspaper, but also we fundamentally changed the way we produce and distribute it.

The first major component of this effort was the phased-in opening of strategically located circulation depots, where newspapers could be trucked in bulk by our drivers for pickup by adult independent distributors.

The distribution of newspapers to depots allowed the use of a two-part production system, with classified and feature sections being printed early in the evening and main news and sports printed several hours later. This also meant we could get the newspapers to our customers an hour earlier than we did with youth carriers.

Surely the capstone of our "reinvention," however, was the 1994 opening of our $200 million Tiedeman Production and Distribution Center in Brooklyn. With this plant, we now have the very latest newspaper technologies and capabilities, including electronic pre-press pagination, high-speed printing and color capability throughout the newspaper.

In the so-called "old days," over four hundred typographers had slugged up in our composing room to type in hot metal to form the letters and pages that are now done electronically. That process evolved into cold type where stories were output on paper and cut with exacto knives and then pasted up on thin cardboard. It is just amazing that this process is now electronic pagination, where the entire page including photos, stories and ads are all output on to a one page negative at our downtown location and then transferred via fiber-optic technology approximately 10 miles to our plant in Brooklyn.

We used to operate solely out of our East 18th Street location with old Hoe letter presses which have now been replaced by mammoth Goss Colorliner offset presses located at our plant in Brooklyn that is dedicated to production and distribution. The plant brought a high level of automation to our operation and after seeing all of this new technology, I sometimes wonder how we used to produce a newspaper each day! Even with what seems now to be antiquated processes, our readers could count on us to communicate the news of the day to their homes on a timely basis.

In the spring of 2002 we completed the construction of our $38-million downtown office building. In addition to our executive offices, this building houses our editorial staff and support functions such as advertising, circulation administration, accounting, building services and human resources. We also added a much-needed training and conference center that allows us to host large groups for a variety of events. We view this building as a commitment to the revitalization of Cleveland, while providing an excellent work environment for approximately 1,000 of our employees.

As proud as we are of our new facilities both in Brooklyn as well as downtown and all of our new technology, we know that none of this would be meaningful without the excellent content with which we communicate to the public on a daily basis. We have set a goal to be the finest newspaper in the country. We are confident that we offer our readers an excellent product that we continuously enhance with new editorial sections and strong journalism.

It is a constant challenge and daily balancing act for us to convey information, entertain and enlighten in a way that is relevant to a widely diverse population. On an ongoing basis through focus groups and reader surveys, we talk with our readers, along with those who do not yet read our newspaper. This consumer feedback has helped form the basis for many of our recent improvements and will continue to assist us in our efforts toward continuous improvement.

A recent readership survey informed us that some of our readers prefer a more abbreviated form of the news and that they want to see themselves reflected in the stories and the photos. Communicating to a diverse group is always a challenge. We want to attract new readers yet we certainly want to maintain our core readership base. We recently met with a group of teens in consideration of a new teen section. They basically told us that we should not "dumb-down" a section for them. They were interested in reading the news just like everyone else. They wanted to see longer, more in-depth articles and content. The teens expressed interest in stories from their point of view. In retrospect, when we wrote articles about the school levy we realize now that we never asked for the student's point of view …. A simple consideration when communicating to a specific audience.

I am sure that most of you have heard the news that one of our columnists, Connie Schultz, received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary this year. We are extremely proud of Connie and consider the award a victory for The Plain Dealer as well. It has been over 50 years since we have been able to claim journalism's greatest honor!

In an effort to continuously enhance the daily newspaper with new content and in response to readers' needs, one new section we created was "Inside & Out" for the home and garden market. We found it to be so popular that just last year we designed a glossy magazine, "Sophisticated Homes," to help residents realize the resources and cutting-edge décor available in our area.

Also last year, we revitalized our Wednesday food section and it became known as "Taste," with more recipes and expanded articles on foods and dining.

Our "Mosaic" section chronicles the diverse international cultures in our area. We have also compiled the profiles from the section into a "Greater Cleveland Mosaic" book that is currently on sale through the newspaper and in certain bookstores.

High school students and their parents love "The Locker Room" which is currently devoted to High School sports. We are looking at expanding that section to appeal to an even broader audience of readers under age 18.

"A Guide to Northeast Ohio" was introduced last May and is scheduled to run again this May, providing information about housing, entertainment, recreation, sports, healthcare and education in our region.

Our Friday! entertainment magazine continues to be a big hit with our readers but we are currently looking at an enhancement of that product to appeal even more to a younger demographic. "PDQ" was also designed with the younger readers like college students in mind, offering quick hits of news and soundbites of the region's social scene.

Recognizing that women make approximately 75% of all healthcare decisions for themselves and their families, we have created "Smart Health," a targeted monthly publication with a local focus on women and wellness. It is scheduled to launch in September and will have chapters devoted to fitness, nutrition, health and beauty, family health and drug updates.

And we have many other ideas on the drawing board designed to keep our daily product fresh, informative and entertaining to our diverse readers.

Also, to enable us to better communicate with our readers and ensure their satisfaction, just last month we announced the creation of a new position called "Reader Representative," which was filled by one of our veteran journalists. His new role is to receive and investigate complaints from our readers about accuracy, fairness, balance and good taste in our news coverage. This "ombudsman" will meet and interact with the public and make recommendations for changes. One thing that has not changed … you can never communicate enough!

There are many who would argue that the Internet will be the death of newspapers as we know them. Let me remind you that people said the same thing about radio and television. Yet here we are, alive and well.

Without question, the Internet has unlocked vast treasures of information for the entire world. However, people still rely on newspapers for in-depth coverage and analysis - and, I believe, a permanence - that the Internet simply cannot match.

Rather than view the Internet as a harbinger of newspapers' demise, we see it as yet another tool for serving our readers and other audiences. Our own first venture into cyberspace occurred in 1996 when we helped create our Internet affiliate, cleveland.com. It is a natural relationship, really, as The Plain Dealer provides much of the content of cleveland.com while the website opens up a new avenue for us to reach and interact with readers and non-readers alike. Cleveland.com features news, columns, obituaries and much more from The Plain Dealer, as well as a 14-day news archive.

Although people are gravitating toward the Internet these days, we must all remember that the content comes from organizations like The Plain Dealer. Delivery methods for communications may change but someone still must be responsible for gathering, writing and editing the information before dissemination. Even weblogs, that are gaining in popularity, particularly among the 18-25 year old young adults, access information from a specific source. Most weblogs contain more commentary or opinion than factual information.

Eighty percent of a newspaper's revenue comes from advertising and Internet organizations are still trying to figure out the business model for increasing revenue and achieving profitability.

The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com make it very easy for our readers to get timely news and information. Late breaking news is secured by Plain Dealer reporters and provided to cleveland.com to give our readers continuous updates. For example when Paul Silas was released, cleveland.com had the scoop at noon and our readers could get a more comprehensive story in The Plain Dealer the following morning. This is a bit of a culture change for our news department right now … they are used to submitting their stories for morning publication. A story may appear first on the Internet but only because we provided cleveland.com with the pertinent information.

If you do not already subscribe to The Plain Dealer, you can just click a couple of times on cleveland.com, enter the pertinent information by 8 o'clock in the evening and we will have a newspaper out to your home in the morning! Want to place a classified ad in The Plain Dealer and online? It is very easy to do with a few clicks of your mouse.

Our Advertising Division has been taking advantage of the digital age for quite some time in order to serve our advertisers even better. In fact, The Plain Dealer was one of the pioneers in electronic ad delivery, and members of our account team have carried laptops for many years to facilitate order placement and research retrieval from advertisers' offices.

Because of our relationship with our affiliate, we are now able to offer advertisers "bundled" packages in which they can communicate to their customers utilizing both traditional print ads and an online presence. We call it the "Power of Two."

In order to better service our readers, our circulation division utilizes cell phones to communicate with our drivers by text messaging information regarding customer service issues. Communicating in this fashion allows for immediate response to our customer's needs.

Although modes of communication have evolved over the years, one thing that has not changed is that it will always be desirable and necessary. And now, more than ever, people have a thirst for information and knowledge in many areas. It is becoming increasingly more important for people to broaden their knowledge base beyond their primary focus in a given field and to be able to communicate effectively in a variety of ways. Today's universities help students develop the skills they need to fit into and enhance the economic fabric of our society. I sometimes worry that there is too much emphasis on pay scales and the economic rewards of learning, and perhaps too little emphasis on the rich rewards of a broad and varied education.

To the students, I hope that while you are here you avail yourself of the many opportunities to learn about things outside your chosen field -- to study physics, even though you plan to be a journalist or study music, even though you plan to do public relations work.

To the faculty, I hope that you are encouraging the students to treat themselves to the full spectrum of learning. The rewards of this broad and continuous learning process are valuable. It allows us to have more interests, which will lead to more experiences, which will lead to an overall greater appreciation of the human experience. Simply put, we will enjoy life more. And others will enjoy us more.

This was certainly true for me. I took a music appreciation course as an elective while I was here at Cleveland State. I soon found myself really enjoying the class. And even though I already considered myself to be a professional musician of sorts, the course in classical music expanded my horizons. I found myself enjoying and understanding music in a whole new way. This broadened appreciation was truly a lifelong gift -- and led, years later, to my joining the board of trustees of the Cleveland Orchestra and helping our community maintain one of its most precious assets.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for allowing me to share my thoughts today about the evolution of The Plain Dealer and the ever-changing field of communication. I wish you the best of luck with your new School of Communication and with all of the many changes taking place at Cleveland State that are sure to add to the vitality of an already distinguished institution.

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engaged learning
Mailing Address
School of Communication
College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences
Cleveland State University
2121 Euclid Avenue, MU 233
Cleveland, OH 44115-2214
Campus Location
1st & 2nd Floors
Music & Communication Building
2001 Euclid Ave.
Phone: 216.687.4630
Fax: 216.687.5435
Web Contact
Rick Pitchford
r.pitchford@csuohio.edu
Phone: 216.687.5077

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