Chuck Yarborough doesn’t have time to be proud.
He is, of course, as we talk just one day after he took his oath as a member of The Plain Dealer News Guild’s executive board, which currently represents 68 employees. But with his union, Local 1 of the News Guild, facing another round of layoffs as contracts expire early this year, there’s too much work to be done to dwell on ceremonies.
“I owe it to my union brothers and sisters to do the best we possibly can for them,” says the paper’s music critic and columnist. “I’m going to fight for every one of them. It feels like an obligation to do that for the people that I love and for the profession.”
As negotiations wage on between the Guild and Plain Dealer ownership, New York-based Advance Ohio, Yarborough is raging against the machine the best way he knows how: by staging a rock ’n’ roll show.
On Feb. 9 at Beachland Ballroom, a wide swath of Cleveland’s most prominent musicians will take the stage for the Concert For Truth. With a lineup including Alex Bevan, Michael Stanley, Brent Kirby and Diana Chittester, the show is designed to raise awareness and funds for the Guild’s effort to save the community’s only remaining newspaper. Even Yarborough plans to hop on the drum kit for a song or two, backing Doctor Joe and the Squeeze Play Band, an all-accordion rock ’n’ roll polka band.
“If you’re from Cleveland, you understand how much music means to Cleveland,” he says. “These are the best musical voices in Cleveland. It was the perfect way to mesh what we’re with something people love and understand.”
In a role reversal, Yarborough phoned in a favor from the same local musicians he’s celebrated and highlighted since the early '90s. From Stanley to Ray Flanagan, who Yarborough has covered since the songwriter’s participation in the Tri-C High School Rock Off, the answer from the other end of the line was, unequivocally, yes.
“That was probably the most gratifying thing of this whole episode,” says Yarborough. “Alex Bevan, the skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio, is an ambassador for Cleveland. Mike Stanley, who sold out Blossom four times and is going to play the Beachland with a 350 capacity, is so humble. He said, ‘Put me on whenever you want me. I don’t need to headline.’ They all said, ‘If I don’t have a gig, I’ll be there.’ These are working musicians trying to make a living. But they understand what the Plain Dealer means for Cleveland.”
Announced earlier this year, the Plain Dealer plans to cut at least 29 jobs at the end of February by outsourcing copy editors, designers and other roles. Twenty-four outsourced jobs include Guild members. The rest are in management. Since 2004, the union has been decimated, shrinking from 400 members to 68 employees. The most recent round of layoffs would put the group at 44 members, and more cuts might not be far off.
If the cuts go through, you won’t likely lose your favorite columnist, but the highly trained professionals that serve as the backbone of the paper. These are the people responsible for iconic moments such as the full-page spread titled “Gone.” when LeBron James left in 2010, as well as the miniscule details such as understanding the East-West divide and fixing a “Tuesday” that was actually supposed to be a “Thursday” in a recent Yarborough column.
“You don’t see the oil flowing through engine of your car, but ease up and you wouldn’t go anywhere,” he says. “They are so integral. They write the headlines that draw you in. They ask me questions that drive me nuts all the time, but because of them they make everyone better. When I came out of school, each story would be read four times before press. Now, you write it and it goes online. That’s how mistakes happen.”
In the spirit of a Live Aid or Farm Aid, the Concert for Truth raises funds and awareness. Proceeds from the $10 concert and T-shirts go directly to Guild members who have been laid off. The money will help pay for food and insurance, as well as the Guild’s future endeavors.
A fitting headliner for the night, Alex Bevan will perform his 2013 song, “Ink on Paper,” written the last time the Plain Dealer faced layoffs. The tune recalls his time delivering the very same paper he’s trying to help save and preaches its vitality to local democracy and freedom. The full lineup of that night’s performers will join him on stage to sing the song.
When they sing the chorus together, a rallying cry will ring out: “No, no, no, don’t you let it go. I need the Plain Dealer every day. No, no, no, don’t you let it go. I want ink on paper to stay.”
Full Line-Up: Alex Bevan, Rachel Brown, Michael Stanley, Austin Walkin' Cane, Diana Chittester, Leonardo DiCosimo, Afi Scruggs, Charlie Mosbrook, Dr. Joe and the Squeeze Play Band, Brent Kirby, Ray Flanagan and David Spero (Emcee).
$10, 6 p.m., Feb. 9, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, beachlandballroom.com
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Plain Dealer News Guild would fall to under 40 members after job cuts. The outsourcing of Pub Hub jobs only includes 24 Guild members; the rest are in management. The Guild will still have 44 members.