Cleveland’s lone daily newspaper is the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It’s hard to imagine the City by the Lake without the PD — but now employees of the newspaper are raising that possibility.
The PD has been hit by declining circulation. In 2007, its circulation was 334,194 (daily) and 445,795 (Sunday). In 2012 its circulation was 246,571 (daily) and 401,134 (Sunday). In short, its paid readership has fallen sharply, and it likely has suffered a similar drop in ad revenues.
The Plain Dealer staff apparently has been advised that cutbacks of some kind are likely. The Newspaper Guild Local that represents PD journalists has decided to approach the issue proactively, by buying billboards advising the public of the possible cuts and urging readers to not let the PD “fade away.” There’s also a “SaveThePlainDealer” Facebook page with the same message.
I was up in Cleveland on Monday and saw one of the “Save the PD” billboards, and it was as jarring as when I heard that Art Modell was moving the Browns to Baltimore. It was impossible to imagine Cleveland without the Browns, and it’s just as impossible to imagine the city without the Plain Dealer. It’s long been a leading newspaper in Ohio, and the idea that it might reduce its operations — or stop publishing a print edition altogether — is unthinkable.
The problem, however, is one of economics. Writing, printing, and distributing a daily uses lots of materials and employees; publishing on-line doesn’t. More and more, people get information from the internet, where new content appears all the time. When you compare the cost and nimbleness of the web to physical newspapers that are delivered to your doorstep, the latter strikes many people as a kind of anachronistic antique, like the telegraph or stagecoach travel. For that reason, the Newspaper Guild’s campaign may well face an uphill battle.