The New PD

The Plain Dealer shook up its look with its July 1, 2008 issue (Hint: it’s smaller, with more short stories). We offer our observations on the new approach to the city’s only daily.

It’s all about ad sales and less space to print news — we get that. But in the interest of brevity, here are the most important 28 words of the 611 that Plain Dealer publisher Terry Egger wrote in the June 29, 2008 edition of the paper, announcing the changes to come two days later:

“We face the most difficult advertising environment in our history. Changes to the paper begin Tuesday. Some are improvements. Others are necessities. We intend to remain a watchdog.”

The Sunday paper also included a two-page infomercial about the making of each edition of The Plain Dealer. We wonder why the upcoming changes weren’t clearly outlined for the reader rather than buried in fluffy copy that equated the assembly of a newspaper with an act of God (hey, they called it the “daily miracle,” not us). Still, they did a decent job outlining for readers the changes to expect this week.

Here’s a rundown of the larger changes we noticed in the July 1 edition:

A Section

In defense of the brief
Six pages are not enough to cover the nation and world. But that’s all the shrinking the Plain Dealer has left. Today, it used the precious space pretty well. Its Zimbabwe story personalized and explained the Mugabe regime’s election strategy of mass murder. Its Afghanistan story warned that the war there is going badly, with the U.S. losing more troops there than in Iraq.
The PD ran 17 one-graph briefs on pages A3, A4 and A5. One of our staffers commented he wished they had chucked them all leaving room to squeeze in maybe two longer stories. But then you’d lose the quirky human details that make a news page complete, like John McCain appearing on Jeopardy in 1965 or Prince Charles showing his inner James Bond by driving an Aston Martin that runs on “bioethanol from surplus wine.” Barack Obama is campaigning in Ohio, Iraqi judges face assassination, and a Guantanamo prisoner is charged with organizing the USS Cole attack — all newsworthy, all casualties if the paper banned the brief.
A call for quality over quantity
Newspaper readership studies often show people want local, Local, LOCAL news, so it’s not surprising that the national and international news sections got a hefty cut. And considering the Plain Dealer wasn’t providing its own coverage of world events, but merely reprinting the wire anyway, we shouldn’t lament the loss too much. However, we should object to what the paper is providing with the little space still deemed worthy of national and international coverage.
The new A-section is packed with news briefs, without much more information than we could get by watching the scroll bar on a cable news station or listening to the news on the nines on the radio.
In other words, the Plain Dealer now is giving us what’s easy to find on the Web, without the convenience of being able to click on something.  It would be more beneficial for the paper to take one of those short stories, put the news in a little bullet-pointed box, then use the rest of the space to explain why that news item is important. Add some context. It would mean less quantity but more quality.
The good news: With the paper now only taking 10 minutes to read through in the morning, we can at least set the alarm clock to ring a little later.

Short and sweet
The new A2 section of the PD captures a wide swath of news and offers additional links to online content, with easy-to-remember Web extensions for looking them up later. Some of our staffers commented that they liked the fact that it’s broken up into smaller, quick-hit pieces, which could sway more readers from overlooking the A section completely in favor of going straight to the Sports page.
Plain Dealer stupefies page A2 of the paper
Full story no longer available.
More online:
What happened: When faced with a shrinking amount of space for news coverage, the Plain Dealer decided to use what’s left to refer you to its Web site, and other shortened stories in other sections.
What it means: More non-news babble in the paper. And, apparently, the Plain Dealer telling us that one of the top five “smart things” we should know today is not to smoke crack like singer Amy Winehouse. It’s like they dumbed down USA Today for us.

The Opinion section shrunk from a weekday two pages to one. What it means is the likely end to — or at least severe reduction in — guest editorials. We loved reading enlightening arguments by local academics, especially the many well-done pieces by Cleveland State University urban-planning professors. Is this also the end of Maureen Dowd and other national columnists in the pages of the PD?


Business is booming. OK, maybe not ad sales — only two small “spa” ads, one for fireworks and one for erectile dysfunction in the Sports section. (Hey, the newspaper really is just like the Web!)
But take a look at Tuesday’s business section: six pages of news and much of it local. If you’re counting at home, that’s bylined articles from nine PD reporters (only two less than the Metro section).
And we learned a lot. Ohio rolled out the rubber carpet by OK’ing $18 million in tax benefits for Bridgestone in the competition for its $60 million technical center. (The state agency also approved a credit for a Chinese-owned medical device company looking to locate its headquarters in Beachwood.)
Plus prices are up for fireworks, corn on the cob and flights on Continental (of course, we missed that two-hour window where fares stayed the same). But still we’re left wondering why the juiciest story of all (“EEOC sues Spitzer Motor City for fourth time”) got buried at the bottom of C6. As for the new MoneyWise page, we like the new format, especially the PD1K, where you’ll realize that $1,000 invested in most companies of local interest isn’t good business.
Maybe that’s reason enough to call Shawn Buffum in the PD ad department to inquire about that unsold stock island position. 

The changes make it feel awkward to read, but we’ll get over it. It’ll be fine in a week.
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