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Journalismism

Iconic And Brave: Plain Dealer Editor Decided Not To Report Some News About The Browns

11:25 AM EST on February 11, 2024

An exterior view of Cleveland Browns Stadium prior to the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals on September 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jason Miller/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns released a statement about their future stadium plans. While reiterating that the team is currently trying to suck millions of dollars out of the city of Cleveland in order to pay for stadium renovations, the statement also acknowledged that the Browns have begun "studying other potential stadium options in Northeast Ohio at various additional sites."

Readers of a local Cleveland real-estate blog called NEOtrans would not have been surprised by the Browns' sudden admission that they are looking at sites for a potential new stadium. That's because NEOtrans broke the news earlier in the day that the team's owners are very close to buying a 176-acre tract of land in the Brook Park suburb. Cleveland residents who rely on the city's major newspaper, The Plain Dealer, to keep them informed about local developments would have likely been caught off guard by the Browns' statement, though, because the paper didn't run any stories about the possible Brook Park purchase before or after the team commented.

A big newspaper getting scooped by a tiny local blog isn't all that remarkable, but this instance has gotten extra attention because of how The Plain Dealer's editor, Chris Quinn, decided to handle getting beat to the story. In a long and strange article posted yesterday under the headline, "Why didn’t we carry a story about the Browns stadium? We’re not pawns in this chess game," Quinn claimed that his paper did not cover the potential Brook Park purchase or the Browns' statement for moral and ethical reasons.

Was the news that the Haslams might buy a suburban site a chess move? Would getting that possibility—real or not—on news platforms cause such a stir that the Browns might negotiate a better deal with the city? With nearly every news outlet reporting the Browns might head to the suburbs, would Bibb be more likely to offer more cash?

Our newsroom can’t be a pawn in the chess game. We have standards, and so far, this story does not meet them. All we have is the city’s vague release about continuing to negotiate with the Browns and the equally vague Browns statement offering just enough to stir the media stew. You can read both below.

You could argue that we should have reported the statements, but journalism is not transcription. It is truth. The statements are not truth. They are spin. We don’t have enough facts yet to get at the truth.

Chris Quinn

It's all well and good for a newspaper to not want to get spun, and it's certainly possible that the theory Quinn lays out here—that the Browns are just trying to make a lot of noise about potential new stadiums in order to bully the city into coughing up money for renovations—is correct. But if Quinn's read of the situation is that Thursday's revelations were not newsworthy, then the sensible thing to do is to keep them out of your newspaper and go about your day. Instead of quietly doing his job, though, Quinn decided to turn this into an opportunity to publicly congratulate himself.

We have plenty of room for disagreement here. The debate on our team was spirited. If you disagree, please don’t blame the reporters and editors responsible for coverage of the Browns or the city. I made the call. If you want to scorn someone, scorn me. And just so you know, a story on this issue—any story—would have been read by hundreds of thousands of people on our site, generating advertising revenue for us. Doing the right thing trumps revenue.

Chris Quinn

Engaging in this kind of aggrieved chest-thumping appears to be a regular thing for Quinn, who previously wrote a similar column explaining why The Plain Dealer did not report on a letter, written by 22 anonymous people claiming to be current or former employees of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, calling for the agency's board not to renew the contract of CEO Grace Gallucci. Quinn began that missive by writing, "It’s not fair. Grace Gallucci has been a dedicated public servant leading the Northeast Ohio Area Coordinating Agency for 12 years, participating vigorously in uncountable discussions about the direction of our region." And then he ended it with this paragraph:

I also feel I should disclose that Gallucci and I were in the same Leadership Cleveland class in 2015. I have spoken with her in a professional capacity only once or twice since then. I did not speak with her about this column.

Chris Quinn

Hey, what happened to all that stuff about not allowing obvious spin to sully the prestigious pages of The Plain Dealer?

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