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Late Night: Dear Readers, Screw You

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Via Dan comes this masterpiece of corporate-speak, a very special episode of Why We Suck: The News Industry Manifesto: 

As you may have heard, we recently announced changes in the way The Plain Dealer will publish and distribute the newspaper later this summer. These changes will enable us to meet the evolving needs of our print and digital audiences while continuing to provide Northeast Ohio with the most comprehensive and up-to-date news and information 24/7.

Um, if you’re doing that already, why the need for changes? But hey, overall, sounds AWESOME. My needs are evolving. Tell me about the new stuff I’mma get!

Effective Aug. 5, The Plain Dealer will begin home delivery of its premium print experience three times a week, with larger news sections and expanded local coverage: a Wednesday edition enriched with more food and dining coverage, a Friday edition with Northeast Ohio’s most comprehensive blueprint for entertainment, and a Sunday edition filled with even more arts, travel, opinion, sports and news.

Is there a word in here that isn’t focus group-tested? And what the tits is a “premium print experience?” This makes it sound like instead of the paper you’ve been getting, somebody is going to bring you something new. Is that the case? If so, say that. If not, say something else.

Each premium edition will also include a free-standing Forum section, reflecting the thoughts and opinions on topics most important to the people in our community.

Syndicated columns, vaguely racist letters to the editor, and the occasional editorial about how local politics is all messed up. And what does “free-standing” mean? Is it a pop-up? A new magazine? If you’re starting a new magazine, why not just do that without screwing up everything that already exists?

I wonder if the paper’s assessment of consumers’ “evolving needs” showed that we were evolving a need for more boardroom-speak. That would explain this:

As an enhancement to the weekend experience, a bonus Saturday edition, including an auto section, will provide the latest high school sports coverage and a complete Ohio State football preview.

How is a Saturday paper a “bonus?” Do you not get a Saturday paper now, Plain Dealer subscribers? If so, how is this new Saturday paper a bonus? And if you don’t get a Saturday paper, and the paper is going to be cut back, why expand at the same time?

With our updated digital edition, you can read The Plain Dealer anytime, anywhere. It is an exact digital replica of the morning’s paper in the page-by-page format you enjoy, delivered daily to your desktop or mobile device. The new digital edition is faster, includes enhanced search capabilities, and allows you to quickly scan headlines and section fronts and enlarge type to read articles at your comfort level. It also now offers you breaking news from our reporters as well as real-time information at your fingertips.

Also known as THE INTERNET. Now, with the Plain Dealer, you can read the exact same paper ON YOUR COMPUTERS. You can search, and change the type size, and LOOK AT STUFF ON A SCREEN. You can look at it QUICKLY. It’s awesome!

1998 called, it says hang in there, the music gets better.

As always, single copy editions of The Plain Dealer will be available at over 2,000 locations every day.

So you’re still printing it, but not delivering it anymore. Ha ha, screw you, home subscribers!

We appreciate your loyalty and are dedicated to delivering the great coverage and service that you deserve. We look forward to presenting you with our new premium editions, access to our digital edition and news about other valuable subscriber benefits that will be coming soon.

Got questions? Too bad, suckers!

And, if you’re currently a subscriber, we’ll be contacting you individually with a personal letter detailing your subscription, benefits and pricing in the coming weeks.

Translation: We have no earthly clue how this is going to work out, but we’re so excited about our expanded premium replica expansion of more stuff but less stuff but different stuff but the same stuff that we had to tell you before we figured it all out, because that never makes anybody look bad. The EIC, answering a question from a 7-day subscriber about how he’s getting hosed financially here:

The 7-day subscriptions will be honored but converted to the new 4-day a week delivery schedule (which includes a Saturday newspaper), plus access to the new, replica electronic version of The Plain Dealer, 7 days a week. As I replied below, the exact pricing structure has not yet been finalized.

You have a newsroom full of professional bullshit detectors who, if they are good at their jobs, are mildly paranoid and always pissed off. Before you foist something like this on the public, HAVE YOUR NEWSROOM READ IT. They will poke holes in it so the customers don’t have to. Christ. And it gets worse: is free and there are no plans to charge for the site’s content. The big difference between and The Plain Dealer’s electronic edition are lay out and presentation. The electronic edition is an exact replica of the newspaper, which some people prefer. It will also contain headlines and links to breaking news, weather and more.

“The big difference between and The Plain Dealer’s electronic edition are lay out and presentation.” So you’re paying for some code rearranging? Guys? I just …

I said this on Twitter when Dan put this thing in my sightline, but I fail to see what reducing the frequency of home delivery has to do with reaching audiences that like digital awesomeness. I fail to see why newspapers cannot be great newspapers and still have great web sites. Cleveland’s is less bloated and heaving than most, but it’s still … a replica of the paper. As they proudly announce. As if that’s an achievement.

I understand from a NEWSROOM perspective it’s hard to do it all, but this is written by the circ department head. Do we have a multi-tasking problem here? And if so, how does reducing home delivery solve that? Is the money being saved on home delivery (which, I’d like a number here at some point) being funneled into servers, video equipment, I don’t know, teaching people how to create for digital, I don’t know? And if not, I don’t see what one has to do with the other.

I have never in my life seen an industry so determined to insult its customers. Not only by peddling patent bullshit, but by telling customers it’s their “evolving needs” that have caused the bullshit in the first place.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.