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Cleveland curmudgeon.

No word aggravates the elite of Cleveland more than "Roldo"--shorthand for muckraking pamphleteer Roldo Bartimole and his heel-nipping biweekly, Point of View. For 25 years the former Plain Dealer reporter has assaulted city leaders with everything from dissections of tax abatement schemes to criticism of his former employer to flat-out name-calling in the four-page newsletter that's earned him widespread derision.

Not that everyone want Roldo's hide. A group of friends and subscribers gathered last month to celebrate his quarter century of muckraking with congratulatory prose, dance, poetry, singing and a presentation by essayist Barbara Ehrenreich. The event had initially been scheduled at Cleveland State University, says organizer Jim Miller, but Bartimole discovered that the Friends of Point of View hadn't met several qualifications for using a public facility. "He investigated us!" quips Miller, who had to scramble to find another site.

The 60-year-old Bartimole is wedded to his independence at least as fervently as to his marriage or his health, both of which have suffered since he launched Point of View in April 1968. He had moved to Cleveland three years earlier from his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to join the Plain Dealer as a reporter. He left briefly to help with an Akron poverty program, returned to the Plain Dealer, then joined the Wall Street Journal's Cleveland bureau. He didn't like that much better. "I was very uncomfortable in a comfortable job," he recalls, so he quit.

Two months later the first Point of View appeared unannounced in about 500 mailboxes, offering a $ annual subscription. "It took a long time just to get 300 [subscribers]," he says. "Those first years were really bad." With a wife and three children to support, how did he think he was going to sur vive? "The problem was, I didn't think about it," he says.

Point of View hit the city's power base with a jolt. "At the time, it was just o rageous," recalls Michael Roberts, a former Plain Dealer city editor and Cleveland Magazine editor who now edits Boston Magazine. Bartimole ripped the Plain Dealer for perceived gaps in coverage, savaged politicians and corporate bigwigs and even blasted the most sacred of sacred cows, the United Way. His articles were all spun around a central theme of the wealthy controlling the city's agenda to the detriment of its working-class and poor residents.

Bartimole's newsletter shows the strains of a one-man operation; it's pocked with typos and will never win any layout awards. But Bartimole's pen is as sharp as ever. In the most recent set of "Scroogies," his annual gifts for the undeserving, he gave one official "a pocket knife for whittling back his Pinocchio nose" and another a new phony face." Bartimole, who was once scraping by on $4,000 a year, says he's doing better. Between his column in a local alternative weekly and Point of View, he says he earned $15,000 last year. The newsletter now has about 750 subscribers.

Nevertheless, some say Bartimole has lost a bit of his bite. "I've stopped reading it," says Brent Larkin, editorial director at the Plain Dealer. "It's the same thing over and over. And if Roldo worked at this newspaper, he could never get away with making as many factual errors as he does." Roberts believes Bartimole has become an anachronism. At some point the game changed and Roldo didn't," he says. "He's saying the same thing now that he was in the '60s and '70s."

Naturally none of this criticism deters Bartimole, but he does concede that the grind takes its toll. "Once in a while I get the feeling that I've done this all before, and here I am still banging my head," he says. "Then something seems to come along that gets my juices flowing."

He reflects a moment, then adds, "I guess it doesn't take much."

Frank Kuznik, a Cleveland native, is a freelance writer based in Washington.
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Title Annotation:Roldo Bartimole, publisher of Point of View
Author:Kuznik, Frank
Publication:American Journalism Review
Article Type:Biography
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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