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Monday, January 21, 2008

Ask Susan Goldberg: Are the changes at The Plain Dealer working?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 21, 2008 at 5:30 AM

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It's probably too early to tell if editor Susan Goldberg's changes are working.
For many readers, their daily newspaper is like that old buddy from high school: Year after year, he keeps showing up on your doorstep. And year after year, you keep letting him in. Unfortunately, he’s also like an old buddy that tends to really annoy you. Especially when he changes. For old pals of The Plain Dealer, the most recent annoyance has been induced by the paper’s front page, which has undergone a makeover unseen since Ricki Lake took the buffet table out of her shower. Life-size photos and dizzying graphics, visible from space, now anchor the front page. National news has all but vanished. Lighter features and commentary are more often prominent. And sports have found a permanent, loving home there. The paper even recently violated the 7th Commandment of Journalism: Thou Shall Not Put Bud Shaw on A-1… The changes are the work of Susan Goldberg. After a stint at the splashy San Jose Mercury News, she took over as editor in May, and promptly began modernizing the front page. It’s an attempt, she tells C-Notes, to acknowledge the emergence of the Internet, a new thing that seems to be catching on, and which gives readers other places to find national news. “The front page needed to set out proactively to be more local everyday,” she says, sounding much smarter than the editors at Scene, who largely just mumble incoherently. As for sports, well -- she has this hunch Clevelanders might dig them. Whether the changes are helping stave off the paper’s decline is hard to say. The Bitching Quotient seems to have increased lately, but newspaper readers have never been prone to praising changes they actually like. And when we asked Goldberg whether newsstand sales have increased, she dodged the question. Twice. Then again, it may be too soon to tell. She’s been on the job just seven months, and is trying to turn back a tide of mediocrity that’s been swelling for years. And with newspapers losing readers like Gary Busey loses gray matter, it’s hard to blame her for launching the time-honored Kitchen Sink Offensive. C-Notes has only one suggestion before we return to our regularly scheduled mumbling: Keep Bud Shaw off the front page. That, we believe, is something with which even Bud Shaw can agree. – Joe P. Tone

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