CLEVELAND, OH – When former State Senator Shirley Smith visited the discriminatory and Russian-owned Plain Dealer / Cleveland.com for an endorsement interview she asked AdvanceOhio’s vice president, Chris Quinn, the same question Rev. Jesse Jackson asked him when he visited the editorial board in August 2018. Where are your “Black” reporters and editors? The Plain Dealer was purchased by child of Russian aliens Solomon Isadore Neuhaus in March 1967. His descendants continue to operate it under the “Newhouse” name today.
Smith was promoting her candidacy for the 11th Congressional District with 11 of the other 12 candidates seeking to replace former United States Rep. Marcia Louise Fudge. As a child and young adult during segregation and the civil rights movements of the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, Smith told EJBNEWS the feeling of the all-Caucasian endorsement meeting editorial pages editor Elizabeth Sullivan led was disquieting.
Smith said the milieu of the Plain Dealer / cleveland.com endorsement meeting as she promoted her candidacy for Congress reminded her of a similar meeting she’d held with AdvanceOhio’s editorial board during her campaign in 2017 for mayor of South Euclid. The reporters evaluating her bore no resemblance, ethnically, to the area. All were Caucasian and she knew the decked was stacked against her in favor of Slovenian American Georgine Welo despite the mayor’s public controversies. Smith asked the panel of writers if any of them were persons of color and one woman raised her hand.
In addition to voicing her concerns during the endorsement meeting in front of the other candidates, Smith wrote Quinn and Sullivan a single-page letter on June 21, 2021. In it she described what she’d witnessed as “very offensive.”
Smith also didn’t appreciate Quinn’s verbal response that the two “Black and Brown” editorial panelists were attending a conference as Sullivan knew in advance that 12 of the 13 candidates for the job are American Negroes. Since the vast majority of candidates were American Negroes, and the 11th Congressional District’s largest ethnic demographic is American Negro, Smith believes the newspaper and website’s workforce should have been editorially consistent.
“Chris, I recently read an article you wrote about taking a look under our hood. I really think we need to do that, get under the hood. In addition, it is in my opinion that another forum with a panel reflective of diversity should be rescheduled immediately or scrapped the one you have in the file,” Smith wrote.
Sullivan led the editorial panel and handled the questioning over the two hour discussion between the candidates. The Plain Dealer’s circulation is down from 450,000 a day and 7-days a week to 94,000 a day and 4-days a week. So there was concern among some of the candidates about the number of voters in the 11th Congressional District who would actually read the $3.50 a day newspaper.
Candidates were promised by Sullivan that the forum would air unedited online to mitigate concerns about the shrunken size of the newspaper and cleveland.com website’s reading audience. To read AdvanceOhio’s online news source, cleveland.com, requires a $100 a year investment. It’s another audience-killing and influence-diminishing barrier to the newspaper and website’s perspective and its political endorsement for readers and 11th Congressional District residents.
For perspective if the Plain Dealer operated, exclusively, as a Cleveland newspaper its 94,000 circulation would only place 5500 copies in each of the city’s 17 wards. Since it’s still trying to maintain a countywide and somewhat regional presence, it’s doubtful the Plain Dealer sells 35,000 copies in the entire city of 380,000 and its surrounding suburbs. A reader now has to drive around the city trying to find one since their store presence has dissappeared along with their neighborhood news boxes.
There are 60 cities, villages and townships in Cuyahoga County with a total population of 1.2 million. If 35,000 copies are sold in Cleveland that leaves 1000 copies each for readers in each of the county’s 59 other cities if all 94,000 copies were distributed in Cuyahoga County … and they’re not. Parma’s population, alone, is roughly 80,000. There are 190,000 residents of Akron.
The concern candidates express about the Plain Dealer’s ability to have any meaningful impact on educating voters and turnout is real since its “possible” 94,000 copies are thinned out between Cuyahoga, Lake, Summit, Lorain, Trumbull, Mahoning and Portage counties. It almost makes a Plain Dealer endorsement pointless since its tiny circulation, huge daily per copy cost and prohibitive website pricing places the dying newspaper outside the economic and practical reach of local readers.
One candidate told EJBNEWS Sullivan’s questioning style was “attitudinal” and that if a candidate didn’t offer an answer she liked she asked the question again. She appeared to direct more attitude at former State Senator Nina Turner despite the candidate’s stroking of Sullivan’s ego by praising the newspaper in the face of Smith’s criticism. It was apparent, said another candidate, that Cuyahoga County council member Shontel Brown had no chance with Sullivan.
Smith told EJBNEWS she has not yet received a written response from either Quinn or Sullivan to her correspondence. The candidate for the United States Congress said she absolutely could not fail to speak up for her people just because of an endorsement.