Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thinking About Food

Something interesting came in over the transom. I love that expression- it refers to material for publication arriving unsolicited and unexpectedly, harkening back to journalism's early days when offices had doors with small hinged windows above them providing an "opening" to get a manuscript to an editor. In this case, the piece I'm about to share here came to me via email from a new organization which officially launches January 10 called Food Tank: The Food Think Tank. The group aims to be a powerful voice for changing local, national, and global food systems, making both production and consumption more economically, environmentally, and socially just. These ideas are important so I wanted to share their first official communiqué. Many of the initiatives, what they call resolutions, are already in place and going strong in Cleveland- from city farmers growing produce that's sold to neighborhood residents and local restaurants; market gardener training programs; an ever-- expanding number of CSA's and farmer's markets including some that make fresh, local food accessible and affordable to to people living in the inner city and inner ring suburbs; and numerous groups advocating actively and successfully for building a thriving local food economy--  but we're still a long way from a fix, in northeast Ohio and everywhere else. As the old year becomes the new one, it's a good time to think about what's  already been accomplished and find in that the inspiration and motivation to make new efforts in our own lives and in our communities.

Cultivating a Better Food System in 2013
by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson,  Food Tank founders

As we start 2013, many people will be thinking about plans and promises to improve their diet and health. But we think a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system - real changes with long-term impacts in fields, boardrooms, and on plates all over the world. These are resolutions that the world can’t afford to break with nearly one billion still hungry and more than one billion suffering from the effects of being overweight and obese. We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!

Growing in Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s aeroponic rooftop garden.  
Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their

Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.

Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.

Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.

Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.

Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.

Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.

Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.

Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.

Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.

Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cleveland Musician to Spend Dooomsday Giving Back

While Mayan calendar predictions have some fearing the apocalypse is upon us, Cleveland-based singer-songwriter Diana Chittester chooses to send a message of hope.

Chittester is spending the apocalypse singing — and you’re invited. The critically acclaimed songwriter and one-woman band with an aggressive folk style is playing a 12-hour concert from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday on the front porch of Lakewood Public Library.  It’s a benefit for the Cleveland Foodbank, Animal Protective League, The Salvation Army and the National AIDS TaskForce of Greater Cleveland.

She’s bracing herself for the marathon performance, planning to sing Christmas songs and inviting other local musicians to attend the event. She says welcomes the possibility of learning their songs and performing with them.

“I’m going give it all I got,” she says. “I hope there’s a lot of coffee there to keep me going.”

Her music, which echoes feminist icon Ani DiFranco’s blunt staccato finger-picking style, touches on taboo topics such as sexual encounters and the politics of religion. The daughter of a minister, she says she became interested in feminist issues when she recognized patriarchal influences in the church and her home.

“It’s important if you’re given a microphone that you say something meaningful,” Chittester says.

Every $1 donated at the concert can help the Cleveland Foodbank provide four nutritious meals to those in need. Food, clothing and pet supplies donations are also encouraged. Chittester hopes her performance will incite curiosity and help make the event the biggest donation drive Lakewood has ever seen.

She says she’s performing tomorrow because experiences on tour taught her important lessons about the importance of community and connection and inspired a passion for charity.

“My mission became to help others realize they can make a significant change just by doing a little,” she says. “Money isn't always an option to give. So I put this 12-hour donation drive together to show people that by just unloading belongings they no longer need or use, they could make a difference in so many people's and animals’ lives.”

Chittester released her second album, In This Skin, in May, on her own Fighting Chance Records label. Her most popular and recognizable song is titled “Secret” and her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic, “Hallelujah,” has also gained a lot of recognition.

Chittester learned to play guitar at 14 years old, performing at local coffee shops and high school talent shows. She graduated from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where her professors introduced her to strong female singers. She moved from Pittsburgh to Cleveland five years ago, began to play at bars, and decided to quit her day job and become a full-time musician.

“‘Just getting by’ wasn’t the approach I wanted to take in life,” she says. “I gave up the safety net and pursued the life I wanted to live. It’s risky and filled with ups and downs. But knowing it’s my choice to deal with those challenges makes it all manageable and more rewarding in the end.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pay Attention

Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. The author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and Eating Mindfully, Dr. Albers is something of a media star, appearing The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, and NPR, and her work has been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle, Shape, Prevention, Self, Health, Fitness, Vanity Fair, Natural Health, and the Wall Street Journal.

She’s kicking off the Mindful Eating Marathon, a dieting alternative and a fresh approach to all those weight loss resolutions that come with the new year, on January 1. It’s 26.2 days of daily challenges and tips for weight management. Going hungry is not part of the program but eating foods you love is. The secret is to learn about what drives your behavior, focus on your habits, and teach the brain and stomach to know when you have eaten just the right amount. Sign up directly through the website and the tips will be sent to you via email.

 I asked Dr. Alber to tell me more about what it means to eat mindfully, why it can be an effective way to address diet and weight issues, what the Marathon can do for participants and how it works. These are her responses.

 If you’ve ever signed up for a marathon, you know that it requires extensive training, mental tricks to keep you motivated and the ability to listen to your body. Sound familiar? It’s the same skills you need to eat well--for the long term. Mindful eating is more like a marathon than a sprint. My clients tell me how exhausted they are by the stop-start processing of dieting. Keeping a slow, but steady pace adopting mindful eating habits prevents frustration and giving up. Research indicates that restriction puts you at high risk for bingeing.

Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It’s about changing how you eat rather than what you eat. A recent study of middle aged women who frequently ate at restaurants cut their calorie intake by approximately 300 calories a day just by learning mindful eating skills—and they still ate out at restaurants. Therefore, it’s a skill that can let you still lead a normal life of eating out with friends and having fast food now and then. It's sometimes impossible to meet all the demands of a fad diet in your everyday world.

What’s interesting about mindful eating skills is that it can help a wide range of eating problems including weight loss, body image problems, chronic eating problems (ex. binge eating) and reduce the symptoms of diabetes. How does it help such diverse problems? Being mindful helps you to stop your emotional knee-jerk reactions around food. You can’t control your brain telling you “I want that fudge brownie!”. What you can alter is if you respond to it. We often think of our thoughts as an “order” instead of just a suggestion. No matter what your brain tells you to do with food, being mindful can help you manage it.

 The Mindful Eating Marathon:

1) Is free

2) Is a gift someone can give themselves for the holiday--the gift of health and a new way of eating

3) It provides an alternative to dieting, which has proven time and again to be ineffective. We know dieting doesn't work but we go back to it time and again. You can't expect different results by doing the same thing.

4) It's a long term strategy that has been clinically tested to help people manage weight.

I'm intrigued by her ideas and as a professional eater the notion of being attentive to my own relationship to food is intriguing. So I've registered for the Marathon, my first ever, and am looking forward to what shows up in my inbox next month.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forum on Plain Dealer's future turns to thoughts of competition

The most intriguing question at this week’s Ohio City Writers forum on the Plain Dealer’s future wasn’t the Plain Dealer’s future. Most panelists seemed resigned to the fact that the paper will shrink this spring by cutting a third of its news staff. Instead, the talk became a brainstorming session on how nonprofit and for-profit startups might rise up to fill the growing holes in Cleveland news coverage.

“[Will] the Plain Dealer be vulnerable to competition?” asked moderator Dan Moulthrop of the Civic Commons. Perhaps, he suggested, the 58 journalists the paper's owner plans to cut from the newsroom after May 1 “could start a new news organization for the city.”

The Tuesday talk at the Happy Dog was the second time in a week that a West Side bar became a forum for heated talk about layoffs and seven-day publication at Cleveland’s daily paper. But the vibe Tuesday night was far different than at the newsroom union’s 7-Day Lager party last week.

Rachel Dissell, PD reporter and a leader of the Newspaper Guild's Save the Plain Dealer campaign, shared the stage with a skeptical panel that reflected Cleveland’s changing media landscape, including a moderator from a civic-journalism website, a politician-blogger and two former newspaper reporters gone digital. Some panelists, such as Pepper Pike city councilwoman Jill Miller Zimon, said they’ve become platform-agnostic, reading news both in print and online.

At first, the talk became a debate of sorts between Dissell and Angie Schmitt, a co-founder of the website Rust Wire who’s written critically about the Save the PD effort.

“It’s really a shame to see anyone laid off,” said Schmitt, who was laid off from the Toledo Blade four years ago. “But the reliance on print makes layoffs inevitable as print declines.”

“Does it take fewer people to ask questions and report stories for a 24-hour website than it does for a seven-day newspaper?” Dissell shot back.

Layoffs are business decisions, Schmitt replied. The web is “where you’re going to see growth in the media in the future.”

Online news is a “really tough business,” added Schmitt, a writer for the nonprofit Streetsblog, but “in some ways, it can be good for consumers, because there’s a really direct way to tell how your stories are being received and what people value.”

That defense of click-driven journalism alarmed Dissell. “On, the stories that get the most hits are the ones with the words, ‘Free,’ ‘Naked,’ and ‘Browns’ in them,” she replied.

Dissell recalled her work researching and writing mini-bios of 136 figures connected to the Cuyahoga County corruption investigation. Who else besides the Plain Dealer has the resources to do such a thing? she asked.

Halfway through, the talk turned on Moulthrop’s question: would a smaller PD face new competition? Schmitt said it would open up opportunities for journalism entrepreneurs.

“In Seattle, somebody told me, every single neighborhood has a hyperlocal blog that’s supporting a full- or part-time journalist,” Schmitt said. “In Cleveland, I think our new media landscape hasn’t been evolving the way you’d expect it to. It’s lagging behind places like Columbus and Toledo.”

Dissell said, a leader in neighborhood coverage, hasn’t figured out how to be profitable. Maybe a nonprofit news organization will have to fill the gap, she said.

Two other panelists, freelancer Afi-Odelia Scruggs and Thor Wasbotten, director of Kent State’s journalism school, debated whether crowd-funding can pay for investigative reporting. Scruggs said it seems to work best when crowd-funded journalists partner with established news organizations. Dissell said the Save the Plain Dealer campaign was looking into partnerships with nonprofits to cover areas the staff most wants to cover.

Wasbotten recommended journalist entrepreneurs approach the Knight Foundation, which has roots in Northeast Ohio. “They’re looking for great ideas,” he said.

All the talk of webby innovation brought Dissell back to the union’s frustrations with Advance, the Plain Dealer’s parent company. “We have no control over almost any of the website,” she says. “We can’t create our own apps. We can’t put out our own iPad version every day.” She once suggested creating digital news-alert notifications and was told the company wouldn’t allow it.

“If you go to the company with an idea and say, ‘I really think we need to do this online,’ you get radio silence,” she said.

Panelists kept returning to the main irony of Advance’s moves in Cleveland and elsewhere: It’s pursuing a digital-first strategy, but doesn’t create first-rate websites. That makes its risky bet even riskier.

“Go find the Advance Publications site,” Scruggs told the smartphone users in the audience. “When you look at that site, I want you to answer this question: Why do we expect them to do for us what they aren’t doing for themselves?”

Update, 12/17: You can listen to the forum here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Leap of Faith with Food

  I've written about a number of newly minted culinary entrepreneurs this year, and now there's another one to report on. His name is Mike Griffin and he opened Crust on Kenilworth in Tremont nine weeks ago (and lost one of them to the power outage courtesy of Hurricane Sandy). It's strictly take-out and the menu offers only pizza, subs, salads, gnocchi. But this is not ordinary meal-in-a-box fare. Dough, bread, and pasta are made on site from scratch and by hand. Ingredients are high end and local when possible. Sauces, toppings, and combinations are inventive and thoughtful. Chef Jeff Fisher, formerly at Touch Supper Club, has been serving as a consultant and hands on adviser and his professional influence is evident. (No surprise that Griffen wants to convince him to make the arrangement permanent). This is upscale restaurant style food, at bargain prices, for dining at home feasts.

   I "discovered" Crust recently when doing a book signing for Cleveland's West Side Market: 100 Years & Still Cooking at Visible Voice across the street. A woman bought a copy then went to over to pick up some dinner for herself. She came back about 15 minutes later with a container of roasted tomato ricotta gnocchi in a Parmesan broth for me, courtesy of Fisher, who I've known for years. Apparently while waiting for her order, she talked about the book and mentioned that I was in the store. He wanted me to get a taste of what they're doing and she very kindly I offered to handle delivery. It was superb, full of the flavor of garlic and fresh basil, white wine, and a hint of lemon. The gnocchi struck just the right balance between airiness and density, somehow being both light and yet substantial.    

   Went over later to say thank you and have a look. The space is really just a big kitchen with a counter, and a couple of tables and stools where customers can wait fro their orders. I met Griffin, who left the computer field to start this business. It's not entirely unprecedented- he has some history working at Deanatella's in Valley View, an old school, family run Italian deli.When his cousin,who owns Visible Voice, told him about  the vacant storefront, he decided it was time to take the leap. He loves having the West Side Market just minutes away and is a regular at the Tremont Farmer's Market.

  Though I've only tried one dish, I know just by reading what goes on the pies, in the sandwiches and over the pasta- lemon rosemary chicken, Tuscan fennel salami, chorizo, roasted garlic mayo, baby arugula, smoked mozzarella, sage and butternut squash, pancetta, balsamic reduction, caramelized onions, Parmesan cream, white truffle oil...that this is stuff I want to eat. I'll have to drive from east to west and back again to make that happen, but I'm highly motivated by Griffin's commitment to serve up the best. "I come in at 6:30 every morning to bake the bread. Making our pizza dough is a two day process.This is a neighborhood with so much great food," he says. "I have to bring my A-game."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Plain Dealer union members drink 7-Day Lager, mull bitter agreement

Market Garden Brewery’s 7-Day Lager, brewed in honor of the Save the Plain Dealer campaign, is crisp and blond, light for a craft beer.

“Only four percent alcohol, so you can drink seven in one day,” joked PD theater critic Andrea Simakis.

The beer menu just says “best when enjoyed daily.” But it’s understandable if some of the paper’s journalists wanted to drink more.

Three hours before their party last night at Market Garden’s basement bar, they’d learned the details of their union’s new agreement with Plain Dealer management. It sets the terms of the newsroom’s downsizing next year from 168 journalists to 110. And it made the party an uneasy brew of sad resignation, festive camaraderie, and sarcastic anger.

“We’ve got a special guest,” Plain Dealer science reporter John Mangels announced at the mike. “I’m sure he’s here somewhere. Steve Newhouse, are you here?”

Scattered boos greeted the name of the digital division chairman of Advance, which owns the PD and has converted several daily papers to three-day-a-week publications. Last month, Newhouse dismissed the union’s Save the Plain Dealer campaign by saying the chain’s decisions would be based on industry trends, not sentiment.

Mangels, who’s heading the campaign, pulled a Clint Eastwood, talking to a green chair as if it were Newhouse. He mocked Advance’s digital-first strategy and the quality of, the PD’s online platform.

“Steve’s blazing trails in the digital world,” Mangels said, but "takes a little while to load.” Advance has rebranded online reporters and editors as “content providers” and “curators,” Mangels said. "We are going to rebrand Steve,” he announced. “The first person who can do that without using the F-word gets a seven-day supply of 7-Day Lager.”

The proposed labor agreement signals that Advance does not plan to merge the Plain Dealer and into a single “media group,” as it has done in other cities. Instead, the company will run parallel news operations in Cleveland: a shrinking unionized newsroom and a new, nonunion digital news staff.

Under the new agreement, nonunion journalists will be able to write for the Plain Dealer, while Plain Dealer reporters’ work will still go online. It’s a major concession by the Newspaper Guild, and it’ll weaken the union over time, since new hires will likely be on the online side.

In exchange, the company will extend the Guild’s contract from 2014 to 2019, restore the 8 percent wage cut the journalists took to avoid layoffs in 2009, and add money to the Guild’s underfunded pension and health care funds. The paper also put a floor on its layoff plans. After the cut from 168 to 110 staffers sometime after May 1, it’ll only carry out one more downsizing, to 105 in 2014, in the next six years.

“After the massacre of 2013, we wanted a guarantee for people,” explained Harlan Spector, president of the Guild local.

The union votes on the agreement Tuesday. If it says no, Spector says management has vowed to cut 80 to 85 newsroom jobs in 2013 instead of 58 and reopen the existing contract’s economic provisions to take the health care and pension fund money out of the journalists’ wages.

“It’s not much of a choice: a bad option and a worse option,” said John Horton, who writes the PD’s Road Rant column for commuters. Horton said he’d grudgingly vote for the agreement. “You see what we have – it’s being dismantled. You’re losing something. You won’t realize it until it’s gone.”

Spector said the agreement hasn’t weakened the Guild’s resolve to press on with the campaign, which has attracted 6,700 supporters on an online petition. “We’re going to stand up for the community and what they want, a seven-day newspaper and a news staff that has some teeth,” he said.

The party, in the brightly wood-paneled basement of one of Cleveland’s most buzzed-about bars, was packed with current and former PD journalists and supporters of the Save the Plain Dealer campaign. The crowd included a few civic leaders, but not nearly enough to stage the citywide revolt the Guild has been hoping for.

Dave Abbott, executive director of the George Gund Foundation, drank a 7-Day Lager at the bar. “It’s a lighter beer than I normally like, but I’m drinking it out of a sense of loyalty,” said Abbott, who came to Cleveland to work at the Plain Dealer from 1975 to 1979.

Abbott said he thinks is a poor substitute for the print edition. “Their online platform is unappetizing, confusing, and inaccessible.” He feared a cut in the PD’s print schedule would hurt the community. “A daily newspaper is a primary source of civic journalism, analysis of issues,” he said.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald weaved through the crowd as reporters thanked him for his support. He said losing a daily would hurt the community’s growth and its political culture.

“Cleveland is on an upswing in a lot of ways,” FitzGerald said. “This is exactly the wrong time to become the largest metro area that’s not going to have a daily newspaper. We’ve got a good story to tell, a lot of vibrancy right now. I think we need a seven-day paper and all the reporting ability that goes along with it to build on that.”

Full-time reporting on politics is a “necessary ingredient of democracy,” FitzGerald argued. Without it, politics “really gets dumbed down.”

How are other civic leaders responding to the campaign? “I don’t think they’re as motivated as they should be,” FitzGerald said. The PD’s reporting has made enemies in town. “A lot of it, in my conversations with them, is based on the fact that they might have a personal grievance against the coverage of the Plain Dealer. It’s understandable, but I think it’s short-sighted.”

At the mike, singer-songwriter Alex Bevan performed “Ink on Paper,” a lively blues he wrote for the campaign:

The times are changing
You know that’s a fact
When a good thing is done
You just can’t get it back
I want my paper to stay

Sam McNulty, Market Garden’s owner, expressed solidarity with the journalists while anticipating next year’s layoffs.

“I’ve got two thoughts,” McNulty said. “One is, we’re going to win this. The second thought is, in case we don’t, Plan B is, when you walk out, bring everything you have, your Rolodex, all your contacts. There’ll be a small office somewhere where we can start all over again.”

Update, 7 pm: Videos from the event are online here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tough choices ahead for Plain Dealer staffers as 35% cuts loom

Even as The Plain Dealer’s journalists mount a campaign to keep the newspaper a daily, they’ll soon face wrenching choices.

The paper’s owner wants to reach an agreement with the newsroom union over how management will go about cutting the news staff by 35 percent and shifting its Cleveland operations to focus more on digital news.

Will the union accept an agreement, even though the journalists feel those cuts will devastate the newsroom and may be a prelude to publishing only three days a week? Or, if they say no, will they risk cuts to their pay and even deeper layoffs?

That’s the question I’m reading between the lines of the news trickling out of the newsroom union’s negotiations with Plain Dealer management.

Newspaper Guild officials revealed this week that the paper’s owner, Advance Publications, intends to cut the unionized newsroom staff — reporters, photographers, designers and mid-level editors — from 168 people to 110 on or after May 1.

Company negotiators haven’t talked about the paper’s future print schedule, except to say it isn’t part of the negotiations, says Harlan Spector, chairman of the union local.

“It’s certainly not a good sign as far as maintaining a seven-day publication schedule,” Spector says. “It doesn’t look good, but we’re still hopeful that the management of Advance is going to maintain a daily newspaper.”

Advance has already slashed its dailies in New Orleans and Alabama down to three-day-a-week newspapers and laid off 48 to 60 percent of the staff. Its papers in Syracuse, N.Y. and Harrisburg, Pa. are making the change in the new year. Staffers here fear the same fate is in store for The Plain Dealer.

Company officials have said only that its Cleveland operations will shift to stress online news more. That goal is the same as it’s expressed in other cities. But the shift will look different here. The Plain Dealer is Advance’s only paper with a newsroom union, and labor law and the Guild contract may be limiting its options.

In other cities, Advance merged its newspaper and online operations into a single “media group.” Here, the company seems to be planning to keep the operations separate, but cut print staff and increase digital staff. The company has offered to shrink the newsroom by a combination of layoffs and re-hires of some newsroom employees at the nonunion

“One of things being discussed is the May 1 layoff date,” Spector says. “We anticipate job offers for, job interviews, the whole process, being earlier than that.”

That seems designed to give the company maximum leverage over current staffers, forcing them into tough choices. The company could entice its newsroom stars to move to with offers of higher pay. Or it could tell some staffers they’ll be on the layoff list if they don’t accept an online job offer. Or it could leave them in the dark, so that if they turn down a offer, they’ll risk being laid off.

The new online jobs may well be like those in these ads for Advance’s Syracuse and Harrisburg media groups: a blend of traditional beat reporting with intense social media engagement.

It’ll be painful for the union to agree to a downsizing plan like this one, especially one so at odds with the goals of its Save the Plain Dealer campaign. John Mangels, chairman of the campaign, says reports from cities where Advance has implemented its strategy show the quality of news has declined.

“It’s not as comprehensive, not as deep, not as edited, has mistakes,” Mangels says. “That’s the kind of preview you’re getting, unfortunately, of what you’ll be seeing in Cleveland if this goes forward as we think it will.” Veteran reporters have been laid off or declined to join the new media groups, he says. “The inexperience of the reporters left there shows through.”

So the Save the Plain Dealer campaign is pressing on. “There has not been a publicly announced of number of days we are going to publish yet,” Mangels says. “We take this as a good sign. We can still have an impact on that decision. Because the layoffs have not happened yet, we believe we can still have an impact on that.”

But even as it resists the layoffs, the Guild may soon have to decide whether to agree on how they’ll be implemented. Its members have a lot at stake.

They accepted pay cuts in 2009 in exchange for a no-layoffs pledge that expires Jan. 31. So the remaining staffers should a bump back up in pay once layoffs happen. But if the union rejects a new agreement, another deadline looms. Starting Jan. 31, the company can also exercise an option in the Guild contract to request an “economic reopener” and try to renegotiate wages and benefits downward.

“If these talks don’t result in some sort of agreement, that’s possible,” Spector says.

The company and union are discussing whether to extend the Guild’s current contract, which expires in February 2014, into 2019.  So if the union turns down an agreement, its members could end up with even less job security. Advance’s offer to hire current staff for online jobs could disappear. Possibly even its plan to keep 110 Guild members could change.

So the journalists are facing two bad choices. Even as they work to create a region-wide debate over the paper’s fate, the company is reminding them of how little control they have.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paris via Ohio City

   Picked the husband up at the airport on a recent Saturday night. It was around 8:30, we were hungry and decided to stop in Ohio City for a bite on the way home. It was a risk, without reservations, to venture into what has become one of the city's buzziest busiest dining districts. But we ended up with a table at Le Petit Triangle Cafe, a French style cafe that I have not visited in a long time. In the rush to eat at all the hot new places, I lost touch with this charming little gem and rediscovering it was a treat.
   Very reasonable prices for wine.  They had a Malbec from France- something I'd never tried for just $21. When I asked about it, the server described it and then dashed off to pour me a taste. Exemplary response that many more upscale establishments should emulate. It was a simple red, uncomplicated and light, just right for the small plate spread we put together. Our leisurely feast included an excellent chicken pate, a big bowl of mussels mariniere, a crunchy French flat bread "pizza" that's topped with caramelized onions, olives, and Parmesan. The only disappointment was the onion soup- the broth lacked both the necessary beefy richness and the requisite amount of salt. The finish was a fabulous dessert crepe made with spiced plums and presented with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  
   With conversation as a priority- we hadn't seen each other for three days- the quiet atmosphere was just right,with patrons all tete-a-tete and (because there is no bar) no bar scene hubbub. Soft lights, soft music, an intimate space with a European persona (and no tv's)- it was the perfect spot to be together.
  Owners Tom and Joy Harlor provide many reasons to find your way here: the selection of savory and sweet crepes and classic French dishes including salads, sandwiches, omelets and entrees; a relaxed and welcoming vibe, good value. And something more intangible- the total combination of food, decor, pace, energy, attitude- that I find so appealing. Let the crowds chase after the next new It place. Join them when you're in the mood. But when the occasion calls for an alternative, keep this place in your sights. I know I will.