Cleveland Musicians Raise Voices for Plain Dealer Newspaper Guild

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Usually the Plain Dealer amplifies the work of Northeast Ohio musicians, but in a twist of roles, area musicians are banding together to raise attention for the Plain Dealer's union - Local 1 of the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild. 

Plain Dealer union members want the public to know they face upcoming contract negotiations as the newspaper industry continues to see cuts in staff, including here in Cleveland.  So Plain Dealer music critic Chuck Yarborough reached out to the local musicians he's covered over the years.

"I decided I would just talk to these people, because I talk to them all the time anyway, and said, 'listen would you be willing to help support the guild?'" Yarborough said.

One of the first people he spoke to is singer-songwriter Alex Bevan, who credits the Plain Dealer for helping his music career long before he wrote his local hit song, "Skinny," in the mid-70s. 

Growing up in East Cleveland, Bevan earned money as a Plain Dealer paper boy at age 12.

"For the next four or five years I used that to not only pay for French horn lessons but probably bought a few pair of shoes with it, went to Manner's Big Boy with it," Bevan said.

Decades later, in 2013, Bevan wrote a song inspired by a significant change in how often subscribers get their hard copy of the Plain Dealer, when the newspaper reduced the number of days the paper is delivered to homes.

"I wrote 'Ink on Paper' about five years ago during the last go around with the guild and the Cleveland Plain Dealer where they were reducing circulation and threatening to remove people from the staff, and it just seemed appropriate to me at the time.  It's very timely now and that's why I revived it," Bevan said.

Bevan, along with fellow musicians, like Michael Stanley, Brent Kirby and Diana Chittester, stage a concert on February 9 at the Beachland Ballroom to support the Plain Dealer guild members, who have a contract set to expire soon and pending negotiations with management.

Yarborough was shocked that more than a dozen popular local acts are participating.

"I think it's because they realize that we are all one big happy family here. The Plain Dealer has always fought for local musicians and we are local journalists, so it's all of us sticking together. That's what really the local music community here has always been," Yarborough said.

Another musician on the bill is Afi-Odelia. E Scruggs, a former Plain Dealer columnist and past freelance reporter at ideastream. Scruggs can relate to the X-Factor that's driving some of the changes at the Plain Dealer - the internet.

"It's a total disruption of both industries. We're all trying to figure out what to terms of journalism, the society is really moving away from having hard copies and when you have a paper it is a hard copy.  Now for certain things you might go out and get one, if there's a memorable event you'll go find a paper, if you can find one, but by and large we're online," Scruggs said.

Musicians are dealing with similar issues online.

"It's the constant question of: 'Do I gig?' That's how you make your money. You have to release music every three to four months, but it's mostly streaming and you get percentages of pennies for your stream," Scruggs said.

This concert comes on the heels of an announcement in December, that the Plain Dealer is laying off 29 union members- mostly copy editors, page designers, and illustrators - and outsourcing those jobs.

For Yarborough, a writer is only as good as his or her local editor.

"In the music world they say you're only as good as your drummer.  But in the journalism world you're only as good as your editor.  I've had some great editors here, we have some of the best copy editors in the country.  At this particular time, that's what the company has said that they're going to outsource, which really bothers me and bothers all of us in the newspaper business," he said.

Despite not having worked for the Plain Dealer for many years, Scruggs said she is devastated by the ongoing cuts.

"You had a core of people there who had institutional knowledge, and that's just gone. It really is a shame to me to look at the paper. I don't look at it, I have to say. I don't look at it because it hurts," she said.

The plan is to end the concert with all the musicians on stage performing Bevan's "Ink on Paper."

"Take it from an old paper boy, it's important," Bevan said.

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