Subscribers to the Plain Dealer woke up Wednesday to the paper’s official word on its new version of summer reading. In a front-page Dear Readers column by Robert Perona, the senior vice president of circulation, we were told of the historic event scheduled for August 5 when the paper will shrink to a three-days-a-week home delivery with all sorts of “enhancement” to your “week end experience”
Like most newspaper announcements of their in-house plans to serve readers, the boilerplate column left us with many upbeat promises to soften the blow of days without a paper on our door step. The Wednesday-Friday-Sundaycircuit will be offered as a “premium print experience” with a Saturday “bonus edition”. At the same time, we were assured that everything will be better than ever before.
Although the deep thinkers of Advance Publications, the PD’s owner (Read: Newhouse), spent long months figuring out how to combat the onrush of news-by-Net technology, I’m not sure how any of this will work, or can work. After all, you may have seen that a sister paper, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, finally yielded to the outrage of its readers and competition from a new paper in its neighborhood to give up its three-days-a-week home delivery and return to its old self.
In that case, the New York Times quoted an ad executive as saying, ” We are excited about this opportunity to extend our daily reach.” Opportunity! It’s the sort of excitement that embellished the PD’s announcement, which had already become old news except for a precise date.
The Beacon Journal in recent years always cloaked change (say, switching to morning publication) with bubbly assurances that the paper would be better than ever with hyper-attention to local news. (You be the judge.)
Tracking the Times-Picayune’s upheavals, NY Times media columnist David Carr referred to the paper’s out-and-in gyrations as a “jaw-dropping blunder to watch. Advance misjudged the marketplace – the whole city and state went ballistic when the changes were announced – and failed to execute a modern digital strategy. Now it is in full retreat with new competition.”
You have to wonder why the strategists didn’t factor in a worst-case scenario down in the Bayou country while some of them were doubtless thinking about their achievement bonuses..
I confess to my own suspicion when bad things are made to sound good. I once was challenged by a mid-range editor after I complained that news room brass never failed to tell the reader that they were “thrilled” that a new department editor had joined the staff. With some of these folks, I simply couldn’t see them being thrilled about anything.
Still, I suspect that the PD front office must be at least temporarily thrilled by making journalistic history in northern Ohio.