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Although stirring comeback slows.


Cleveland may rock, but 'The Plain Dealer' rules

For decades, Cleveland hid its charms. Its world-class symphony played far from downtown, which was largely deserted after dark. Its best nightspots rocked incognito in an otherwise dreary warehouse district.

Then, in the 1990s, Cleveland shook off its dowdy image. While classical- music lovers continue to fill Severance Hall on the far East Side, fans of the beat that connects the Big Bopper to the Beastie Boys flock to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum a short walk from downtown. The old industrial district known as The Flats now teems with locals and tourists drawn by its lively bars and restaurants. And Downtown no longer empties out at 5:01

If it is true that "Cleveland Rocks," as Drew Carey's TV sitcom reminds viewers daily in national syndication, it's even more evident that Major League Baseball is in the city's blood. Many area residents are rabid followers of the American League's Cleveland Indians, which routinely sell out their games at Jacobs Field downtown. According to Scarborough Research, Clevelanders are more than twice as interested in big-league baseball as residents in the nation's other top 50 markets.

Cleveland has not escaped the national slowdown. "It certainly has been a Comeback City. It had a tremendous resurgence. However, the talk here now is that it's sort of puttering along," said Jerome H. Schmeltzer, president of the Jerome H. Schmeltzer and Associates advertising agency. And the city, he added, has always retained blue-collar roots that make it a more conservative market than New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

A big fact of life is the dominance of The Plain Dealer, owned by the Newhouse family's Advance Publications. "There is no question about that, even though its circulation has been dwindling, it's the only game in town as far as print in the Cleveland market," said Schmeltzer.

Circulation is indeed down: The Plain Dealer's daily sales for the six months ended March 31 were 363,693, a decline of 4% compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The PD's Sunday circulation dipped 2.8%, to an average of 480,878.

Like the city itself, The Plain Dealer has been reinventing itself with an aggressive edge to its news coverage and a change in its packaging. On July 16, the PD launched a complete redesign. Three years ago, the paper switched to a narrower web width to save on newsprint costs. Doug Clifton, who became the PD's editor in the spring of 1999, said the changes include new headline and body typefaces throughout the paper, revamped section fronts, and new graphics on the weather page. Clifton noted the paper is having some printing difficulties with its new body typeface, Miller. Since the new face is not as robust as the Dutch typeface it replaced, it is printing lighter and is a bit harder to read, Clifton said.

As part of the redesign, The Plain Dealer created a comprehensive, one-stop feature section that includes both arts and lifestyle elements. The expanded feature section now runs about 12 to 16 pages a day. This year, the paper also added some space to its business section and changed the focus of its Monday business department from personal finance to more general business.

In addition to the design and content changes, there have also been several management moves at the PD over the last year, including the hiring in November of Tom O'Hara as managing editor. O'Hara, previously managing editor of The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., succeeded Gary Clark, who went to The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

In several counties, The Plain Dealer battles for readers and advertisers with another metro daily, Knight Ridder's Akron Beacon Journal, with daily circulation of 142,941 and Sunday sales of 193,641.

A far bigger print presence, however, are the 25 Sun Newspapers community papers, another Advance Publications venture. Published every Thursday, the papers, which are almost all paid- circulation weeklies, have a combined circulation and distribution of about 230,000 copies. "Our motto is 'News that's really close to home,' and our main focus is community journalism," said Executive Editor Linda Kinsey.

The papers, which are edited and marketed from Sun's suburban Valley View headquarters and four satellite offices, cover suburbs on both sides of Cleveland and reach down into Akron's suburbs as well. The papers are making a big push to get younger readers with increased entertainment and sports coverage. As part of that effort, the papers will introduce what Kinsey calls "heavy-duty investigative" pieces beginning next year.

Cleveland's lively rock and blues music scene sustains two alternative papers, which in recent years have been bought by big chains. New York-based Village Voice Media owns the larger and older alternative, the Cleveland Free Times, with a circulation of about 90,000. In the two years Phoenix- based New Times Inc. has owned Cleveland Scene, the company said it has doubled the paper's circulation to about 90,000 copies and tripled its overall ad count.

Cleveland's black weekly, the Call and Post, is best known these days for its flamboyant owner, the boxing promoter with the electric-shock Afro, Don King.

Mark Dodosh, editor of Crain's Cleveland Business, said that the weekly has enjoyed gains in circulation and advertising over the past several years. "What we like to do is bring people stories that they have not seen in other media -- we do not follow stories," Dodosh said.

Tracking the Indians

Even as the city's media outlets try to cope with the fallout from the local and national economic slowdown, the topic that most preoccupies them these days is who will win the right to televise Indians games. This season, WUAB- TV, the UPN affiliate owned by Raycom Media, has the rights to 75 Indians games while Fox Sports Net is carrying another 75 games locally on cable. The betting in some circles is that more games may wind up on cable next year.

A possible Indians move is just one of several changes that have recently roiled Cleveland's broadcast TV market, the nation's 15th-biggest with 1,488,270 TV homes. New management has shaken up the staff at a number of stations. With no station dominating the evening news slots, competition has heated up to the point that two stations have gone to court over the issue of who can call its crew of investigative reporters the "I-Team." Sales crews are increasingly aggressive, with one referring to its account executives as the "Road Warriors."

One continuing media story in Cleveland has been the changes wrought since Raycom Media brought in Bill Applegate as general manager of both WUAB, its UPN affiliate, and WOIO-TV, its CBS affiliate.

Raycom acquired WUAB in March of last year -- the company previously had operated the station via a local marketing agreement. Applegate said he is putting together a comprehensive plan to revamp both WOIO and WUAB, which have been struggling in the ratings. In his eight-month tenure, Applegate has cleaned house at the stations, dismissing several staffers.

The E.W. Scripps Co.'s ABC affiliate WEWS-TV won the local TV news race in July in the key 5, 6, and 11 p.m. time periods. WEWS also came out on top at noon, but ran second in morning news to WJW's a.m. program, the longtime leader in that daypart.

In local cable, CableLink Interconnects, a division of National Cable Communications, in June consolidated ad-sales operations across Cleveland's 33 cable systems. Cleveland CableLink reaches 1 million cable households (a 99% penetration rate) and inserts local ads on 22 cable networks.

The Cleveland radio market is ranked 24th in the country by Arbitron. Clear Channel Communications controls the largest share of the market's radio advertising, at 44.9%, according to BIA Financial Network. Clear Channel Outdoor (formerly Eller Media) dominates Cleveland's out-of-home advertising market.
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Article Details
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Author:Davis Hudson, Eileen; Fitzgerald, Mark
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Sep 24, 2001
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