The Cleveland Press was dead, but it its ghosts would not lie down. For months into 1983 the ghosts – 89 printers of the Typographical Union – sued Cleveland Press Publishing for breaching a 1972 job security agreement with both The Press and the Plain Dealer that gave them job security for the rest of their working lives, or until each of them died, retired or resigned.
They also charged conspiracy between The Press and Plain Dealer in the sale of The Press subscription list and a bulk mailing company for $22.5 million, and for ‘conspiracy in restraint of trade for the purpose of creating a monopoly in daily and Sunday newspapers in Greater Cleveland.’
The case was heard in federal court before Judge Ann Aldrich (against whom, in true Cleveland soap-opera style, it had been publicly alleged she had taken revenge against lawyer Shimon Kaplan of the Climaco law firm because he had rejected her proposal of marriage) who rejected all charges. Judge Aldrich ruled that in the printers’ case they were not the target of the collapsing Press, so case dismissed.
Destruction of the Cleveland Press building started soon after, to be replaced in 1985 by the North Point Office building and tower, home of the now-international law firm Jones Day (Messrs Reavis and Pogue long gone).
Yet rumblings of conspiracy did not end there. In 1984 the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the value of Press assets was much less than the $22.5 million that was said to be the price Samuel Newhouse, owner of the Plain Dealer, was willing to pay on condition The Press was closed and the building dismantled. It had already been noted that the printing presses and other equipment had quickly been sold on closure, preventing any chance that another buyer could have kept The Press going.
The US Justice Department decided to launch a grand jury investigation into whether antitrust law was broken. The investigation lasted three years and concluded in 1987 with no charges. A major factor appeared to be that Newhouse offered the $22.5 million AFTER Cole had already decided to close The Press and tear down the building.
That STILL wasn’t the end. According to the New York Times, in August 1986 Russell Twist, a Justice Department lawyer (with whom I had talked in my Battisti investigation, and had taken part in the Cole-Newhouse investigation) left the department and filed a civil suit saying he was forced to leave after “criticizing his superiors for not aggressively pursuing the investigation.”
In November that year, the federal Sixth Circuit court of appeals heard an appeal of a district court order that documents prepared by lawyers which involved Newhouse and Cole should be made available to the grand jury as part of its investigation.
“Viewed alone, it does present a reasonable basis for suspecting that a crime was committed,” the Sixth Circuit is quoted as saying. The documents were later provided to the grand jury voluntarily by Newhouse, the NYT reported. The court rejected the appeal.
So that, finally, was that. SI Newhouse went on to be a multi billionaire owner of an empire of publications, including Conde Nast magazine, and died in New York on October 1, 2017, aged 89. Cole died, as previously noted, on Jan 4, 1995, aged 80.
The Plain Dealer continues to publish, but by 2019 its circulation had dropped from the 500,000 of 1983 to 95,000. It dropped home deliveries to four days a week, and its last four newsroom journalists were moved to its online Cleveland.com. And as the four had to leave their union, Newspaper guild Local No 1, the first newspaper journalists union in the country, died with it – even as unionism was picking up at reorganized digital news organizations across the rest of the country. The Press’ Local 1, the first journalist’s union in America, became the North East Ohio Guild, incorporating other local papers.
As for other legal fallouts of my Battisti series, Judge Mark Schlachet resigned from the federal bankruptcy bench under FBI and US federal court pressure in October ’82, days after the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judicial council completed a secret report on him, recommending his suspension and public censure. The council found 13 substantial bankruptcy cases Schlachet had funnelled to former law partner Lewis Zipkin; had illegally assigned Gino Battisti, nephew of Judge Frank J. Battisti, and niece Linda to work on bankruptcy cases, and had later hired Linda as clerk of his court.
Schlachet continued working in Cleveland – as an independent lawyer.
Zipkin was found guilty of embezzling $6,000 from Greenwood Village in a bankruptcy case and placed on three years’ probation. He replaced the money and is listed as founder and President of Zipkin Whiting co. law firm.
Gino Battisti resigned and moved out of the area.
And Judge Battisti himself? The FBI, the US Justice Department’s public integrity section and the judicial council of the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals presented evidence to a grand jury in Toledo about his power, influence and assignments to bankruptcy court, but whether other specific cases were cited at that time is not known.
In September, 1985, however, nine members of the 11-member US Northern District of Ohio appeals court determined that, according to the Washington Post, Battisti “had indeed assumed too much power and ordered him to share it with his peers.”
Battisti was still in legal charge of school busing then, but slowly it began to unwind at the speed of the steady decline in students available to be bused: from 115,000 students in 1979 (51% black) to 92,000 students in 1980, to 69,000 in 1994 (71%black), 50,000 in 2007, and 38,700 in 2015. In 2020, according to school district reports, there were 37,158 students enrolled in Cleveland – 65.1% black, 16.7% Hispanic, and 15% white.
A loss of 115,000 students to 37,000 over 40 years! The city of Cleveland was emptying. But how much was due to school busing is highly debatable. The nature of employment had a lot to do with it. Heavy steel works requiring unskilled workers changed with advanced technology. Demand rose for better-educated, office-based workers. Those middle-class parents – both black and white – who could afford to move to the suburbs did so, leaving a sinking, struggling remainder who could never find enough money to pay for all the education that was needed. Fifty per cent of students failed even to graduate.
After Superintendent Briggs retired in 1978 a series of replacements failed to make progress. His successor, Peter Carlin, left in 1982, suing the school board for failing to evaluate him before his non-reappointment. His replacement, Frederick Douglass (cq) Holliday, became the first African-American super to head a large school district. A “stern disciplinarian, but also ebullient” according to one report, he was an aircraft enthusiast, kept a single-engined plane at Burke Lakefront airport and, reportedly, did manage to get reading scores up.
But he too ran into trouble with the School Board, mostly for not accepting the costs of his improvement plans, and failed to get his contract extended. On January 26, 1985, he went into an office, pulled out a gun and shot himself. In his suicide note he blamed the board’s ‘party politics and greed’.
The impact was felt far and wide. The mayor and city council insisted on a much stronger role on the school board. Donald Waldrip, who as head of the desegregation department in 1980, had already left (in 1984), unable to obtain funding for an expansion of the Magnet Schools so loved by Briggs. And Alfred Tutela, who had come from Boston to join the desegregation team in 1978, was appointed Superintendent in 1986. But he too faced a $50 million deficit for school repairs and had to contend with a new Ohio state proficiency test for 9th graders that a majority of Cleveland students were unable to pass. Ohio Governor George Voinovich called for the state to take over the schools.
By 1987 Judge Battisti could clearly see his court-ordered busing program was not going well. He ordered changes in pupil assignments if they were agreeable to the school district, the state, and the child/parents’ legal counsel – without prior court approval. The demands for desegregation were clearly slipping.
In 1993 another schools superintendent, Sammie Campbell Parrish, proposed “Vision 21”, making cross-town busing voluntary so that parents could choose magnet or community-based schools. The NAACP praised the idea, but feared the $90 million it would cost could affect desegregation. An attempt to raise the money from the community via a levy failed, yet again, the next year.
But then, in October 1994, Judge Battisti died.
He had been fly-fishing at his ranch in Montana when he was bitten by an insect that caused typhus and/or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. He was taken to Cleveland Clinic for treatment but died after a couple of weeks there. He was 72.
Judge Robert Krupansky took over from Battisti and ordered the state of Ohio to take charge of Cleveland’s schools, which it did by approving House Bill 239, giving control of the schools to the city’s mayor, a move opposed by the NAACP and the Teachers’ Union. The next year a voucher program was introduced allowing students to attend schools of their choice.
In 1998 the Cleveland schools desegregation case was over. Effectively declaring Victory before leaving the field of battle Federal Judge George White announced the school system was now “unitary,” meaning it had achieved the desegregated status the courts required. It was no longer a racist system. The school board, he said, had done all it could. The persistent gap in student performance between black and white was the result of socio-economic factors and status, not race.
Two years later, at the turn of the century, Judge White declared an end to US federal court oversight of Cleveland’s public schools.
By 2008 even the Cleveland School Board had a new name: The Cleveland METROPOLITAN School Board, intending to attract suburban students back into the city’s magnet schools, such as engineering at the aviation and sea training facilities at Burke Lakefront Airport.
(Metropolitan, as Columbus had done with its schools, involved a number of suburbs. It was a much less industrial city and did not have the 60 or so suburbs as Cuyahoga County, but by 2015 Columbus would replace Cleveland as the largest school district in Ohio. To me, coming from England, metropolitan was a logical way to go – as the NAACP and School Board recognized a decade earlier when it was denied by the courts. It would have spared the city from taking on school desegregation all on its own, slowed down the inexorable movement of thousands of people from city to suburb, and done a better job of integrating children in socio-economic terms rather than just their racial characteristics).
By 2013 a national assessment put Cleveland second to last in reading and math across the nation. In 2018 a survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 19 large school districts ranked Cleveland worst, with 40% of students either attempting or considering suicide. In 2021 a national report by WalletHub, a personal finance website, cited Cleveland as the third neediest city in the country, out of 182 examined. First was Detroit, second Brownsville, Texas.
But I can at least say that by 2020 things were looking up. Yes, Cleveland’s schools were still 64.1% black, 16.7% Hispanic and only 15% white, but its graduation rate had gone up to 78.2%, a 26% improvement since 2010, and it was the fourth fastest improving school district among all Ohio schools.
As for two of my other big investigations:
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is, by all accounts, doing extremely well. It was 7th out of the top 62 most visited national parks in the country in 2020, with 2,755,000 visitors, according to CBS-TV. The Coronavirus pandemic hit it badly after that, as with all national parks forced to close. But the CVNP at least came up with “Pop-Up Weddings,” with a number of dates available for couples, and ten socially-distanced visitors (including decorations, cake and champagne) for $1800. But I haven’t seen the park for 40 years, so can’t really comment. Maybe next year.
The Diamond Shamrock chemical site in Painesville also appears to have been affected by the pandemic, last reports showing little major progress on clean-up and investment in recent years.
Which only really leaves me to say ‘Good luck’ to the people of Northeast Ohio in finding all the best and latest local news, investigations, features, comments, opinions and other useful information that affect your daily lives. You will find much of it on TV and social media, in many different forms and geared to your own personal preferences. There are even some local print newspapers, such as the two I still get every week in my part of ex-urban London just because I keep hoping somebody will pay for skilled reporters to do what I did those many years ago, and “Make a Difference” as my Nieman interlocutors at Harvard asked..
I am told that there is plenty of journalism going on in the third decade of the 21st century, but it seems mostly at the national level; not so much at local. I can’t comment on the situation in Northeast Ohio – except to say that the Cleveland Plain Dealer, with a 90,000 circulation four days a week, no longer has a Cleveland-based newsroom.
But I can tell you this:
There is a real dividing line between pre-digital news and post digital that endangers the concept of the press being “the first slice of history.” The Cleveland Press folded just before the digital age began, so that a search online for what happened when and where pre-1982 is likely to skip right over my old paper and into the arms of our competition, the Plain Dealer. TV rarely gets a mention because they never had the staffs, or the time, that the print media could provide.
You won’t find the most extensive school desegregation coverage, or the Northern Ireland series which posited a warning of internecine violence to Cleveland if it could not be settled amicably; no “Guns in School” series; or Sohio and Steel series; nor a ‘Diamond Shamrock pollution’ series, which changed laws.
Certainly not a “Cuyahoga Valley National Park” investigative series or a “Judge Battisti profile and Bankruptcy Court” investigation anywhere in detail online – because The Press was the only media organization that researched and published them.
My own boxes of old sepia-tinted stories have been the only sources I’ve had to tell my story of Cleveland in the 70s and early 80s.
There remains a glint of hope, however.
At Cleveland State University’s Michael Schwartz Library is the Cleveland Memory Project, which contains the original Press library of photos and news clippings: the ‘Morgue’, donated by Joseph Cole on the closure of The Press.
It says this about digitization:
“Presently only a very small percentage of the approximately half million 8×10 black and white photographs and one million news clippings have been digitized and are available for you to search or browse. We are continuing to increase this number as time and volunteer help permits.” Donations and significant funding would certainly help. 
One million news clippings! So far, by diligent searching in 2022, I can find just 36 digitized copies of news stories under my name, almost all about school desegregation. The last of them is a seed catalogue.
It appears likely to be a very long time before a researcher’s click of a computer key will instantly present the balance of news stories missed, ignored or inaccurately presented by the Plain Dealer and other media. What REALLY happened in the Cleveland area before 1982 cannot be told without the open pages of the Cleveland Press. The two papers had significantly-different ethos, politics and readers. The PD won because it was a morning paper and had the bigger circulation as newspaper readers turned into TV viewers, not because it was necessarily a better newspaper.
Those of us who gave our working lives to The Press, especially those young reporters like me who joined it in the late 60s and early 70s, remember it as the decade we married, had children, put down roots – and passionately loved what we did and where. We had a remarkable freedom to just WRITE. To now slowly realize that young people today have almost no idea of what we did and gave to the community seems tragic.
The entrapment of our legacy in the slowly-disappearing pages of a library at Cleveland State University is surely a major loss to the civic history of north east Ohio.
My life and the stories I’ve presented here are from just one journalist on The Press. One or two others gave a taste of our stories in books decades ago, but two generations have now passed who know almost nothing of the paper and what we did to help shape the lives of the people of northeast Ohio. It is now two generations after The Press closed, and those stories – many of superior quality and impact to those of our competition – are invisible to any and all of the historians, researchers and the public who search for us online.
The history of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio without The Press? Criminal.
- The Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland Memory Project, The Cleveland Press Collection. https://www.clevelandmemory.org/press/ ↵
- The Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland Memory Project, Donors Page. https://www.clevelandmemory.org/donors/index.html ↵