In 1993, during my second day on the job at The Plain Dealer, I noticed a dime taped to the top of a computer I shared with veteran reporter Lou Mio.
“What’s that about?” I said, pointing to the coin. Lou smiled and, with a sweep of his hand, gestured to all the other dimes taped on computers throughout the newsroom’s metro department. An editor on the city desk, Lou explained, had said, loudly, two years earlier, “Reporters are a dime a dozen.”
I stood on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the offending editor and then turned back toward Lou. “Don’t these dimes bother him?” I asked.
Lou smiled. “Every day.”
That’s the sort of thing that made newsrooms different from most workplaces. Friction between management and labor was nothing new. But if you were the kind of boss who tried to pick fights with wordsmiths in a profession that rewards irreverence, you probably were going to have a lot of days when you wished you worked somewhere else. Somewhere boring and brimming with decorum, like a bank, say.
For 18 years, that newsroom in Cleveland was a second home for me. I loved the combustible mix of immovable deadlines and the eccentric people hardwired to meet them. A colleague once described a newsroom as the Land of Misfit Toys. One look around that dingy, cavernous room and you’d have to nod in agreement.
Memories of those quirky personalities can make me smile or tear up, depending on the day’s industry news. This is a bleary-eyed day. We journalists in Cleveland knew it was coming, but isn’t it something how you can brace for a blow and buckle anyway?
This morning, on Wednesday, editors called approximately 50 Plain Dealer journalists and editorial staff to tell them their careers at the paper are over. I am not going to hash out here the business decisions behind this latest round of cuts. More than 400 people worked in the newsroom when I was hired. By the time I left in 2011, fewer than 200 remained. Thousands of newspaper journalists have lost their jobs in the past five years, and there are few signs that the bloodletting will end soon.
Instead, I want to celebrate the legacy of newspaper journalists. Nobody can take that away from us.
I’m headed shortly to the Market Garden Brewery and Distillery, where journalists here and around the country have called in contributions to pay the pub tab for Plain Dealer staff members who were fired. Judging from the emails I’m getting, there also will be plenty of money to pay the tab for colleagues who survived the cuts but want to show support for those who didn’t.