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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PD hires first female editor

On Sunday morning while my hubby and I were perusing The Plain Dealer I was lamenting that what the paper really needs is an editor from these parts -- someone who feels the Midwest psyche.

I am surprised to see that not only has it hired a person with Midwest roots, the paper actually hired a woman! Susan Goldberg comes to the Northcoast from the San Jose Mercury News, a solid paper that has navigated the murky waters of new ownership. Here's the PD's story from page one.

Since I'm a news junkie and I really want to be pleasantly surprised instead of routinely disappointed by my paper, here's my mini wish list for its improvement:

1) Never, ever, ever put Paris Hilton on page 1 again. In fact, I don't care if I ever see a Paris Hilton story again. And PLEASE leave it off the editorial page. Can we please rise above the temptation to resort to the lowest common denominator?

2) Use half the number of wire stories in business section and write more compelling pieces about business in Northeast Ohio. Let's see more about small business and people making a difference and less about stock scandals, unless they involve Clevelanders. That's why we read the business press. Let's take an investigative look at the sub-prime lending scandal, which has had HUGE impact for consumers here.

3) Revamp the editorial board and get some fresh voices involved in editorial writing. It's become, sadly, all too predictable.

4) Use less of the syndicated op-ed available to anyone online or in other subscriptions and dedicate that valuable space to more local voices. Dick Feagler speaks to a limited demographic. Do your research to find and nurture someone who can take his place as a provocative, modern "Cleveland" columnist. I've lived here all my life and I feel as if I know Feagler's stories by heart.

5) Puh-lease, give us something to read in the Metro section other than a collection of news briefs and obituaries.

6) Encourage reporters to write more creatively. Everybody's doing it and unfortunately it's so rare in the PD. And editors, please support more nontraditional writing. It's all too easy to tune out early in a story because it follows the same tired inverted pyramid formula.

7) Can the celebrity gossip column. That info can be had a million other places. It has NO bearing on Northeast Ohio readers. Chuck Yarborough clearly has a sense of humor that is better put to use in his "dirty jobs" feature. Keep Sarah Crump and give that real estate to some quality feature stories or essays, like some of the recent examples by Andrea Simakis, Karen Sandstrom, Karen Long and Yarborough.

8) What is the fascination with American Idol coverage? It's a freaking television show! Someone over there can't seem to disengage from their personal obsession with this show. I don't really care who the audience voted for and if I did, I'd watch the show. Again, this is valuable newsprint space being used for something that has little news value to Northeast Ohio. It's about news value and priorities.

9) Whenever possible, focus on the local. The ramifications of Ford closing are far more interesting than Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. If I want to read about his bid for Dow Jones, I can find that online or on the newsstand. Similarly, I'm less interested in the comings and goings of celebrity chefs and more interested in local farmers or restaurateurs. Ditto for the fashion section. Some of the most interesting features there involve profiles of the little off-beat boutiques around town, or the piece on getting spa/salon services on the cheap. Awesome!

10) The PD does not get religion coverage. Religion isn't something Northeast Ohioans do, it's something they live. This has been one big disappointment after another -- and I say this as a person who routinely writes about religion. It's not cerebral, its an organic experience and there are many, many stories that get missed.

What I think works well and could even be expanded:

1) Phillip Morris has been a strong early voice on the Metro page. After a bungling of the changeover of Metro columnists in the industry press, I am watching and reading his column with interest.

2) Regina Brett has also been writing strong columns this year.

3) Karen Long's book pages are never disappointing. She offers readers a smart, engaging, intelligent mix of reviews, books and voices that is one of the highlights of Sunday's paper. With any luck, she'll be able to expand some of that to include more articles about local writers throughout the week.

4) There are many pleasant surprises found in the sports pages. Jodie Valade's profile of Cavs player Larry Hughes was very touching and thoughtfully written. The Locker Room section is a first-read every Thursday morning with my teenage boys. They especially like to read about how high school athletes prepare and condition for sports. Fresh opinion voices would be a welcome change to the sports section.

5) I like what Susan Glaser has done so far with Travel. The Carolinas package was a great idea and well executed. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone from these parts who hasn't made the Carolina (North or South) trek. Greg Russell, that Harbortown crooner in Hilton Head, even remarked on the number of people there from Ohio (and that we all drove minivans). The important element will be to stay mindful of the mix between affordable travel and the more dreamy opportunities.

And now for my ultimate—though unlikely—wish list:

Bring back the PD Sunday Magazine -- even if it's only once a month. I know it wasn't profitable, but it was one of the great sources of long-form journalism in this town.

Scale back usage of wire stories and invest that money in good local freelance writing. I realize, of course, this is a selfish request, but at one time I had a good gig writing regularly for the PD. I'd welcome the chance to do so again. But it's not just about me. There are many (including a lot of us that are now ASJA members) who have turned away from the local scene because of dried up budgets and limited opportunities to either explore subjects in depth or get paid fairly. Instead, our Cleveland stories are being written for larger outlets.

Change the title of the Reader Representative or change the job description. His columns do not represent the reader viewpoint, but serve instead as defenders of the newsroom. That's a waste of valuable space on Sunday and could better be used for an editor's column or something that tells us a little about what the staff has been working on. Could be short, kinda like in a magazine, just a coupla hundred words to tell us how the news coverage is coming together that week.

Do a better job of forging relationships with readers. The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., holds a banquet every year for its most prolific or provocative writers of letters to the editor. I attended this year's in March and it was a celebration of diverse voices, democracy, free press, free speech and engaged citizenry.

Find a better way of mixing up content both online and in print. Write the short version online, but reference a longer piece available in the newspaper. Or allow straight stories to appear in print with analysis and expanded multimedia available online. But let readers in both places know where to find this info.

Redesign so it looks like a Northeast Ohio product and not a cookie-cutter template that makes it hard to distinguish whether or not you're reading The Plain Dealer, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, or The New Jersey Star-Ledger.

We don't have a choice of papers in this town. Expectations are high and grudges deep. Here's hoping the new editor can energize the newsroom and raise all of our expectations enough for us to say, "Hey, thanks for watching our backs."


Lori said...

Well said, and I second it all.

Jill said...

Excellent advice. I hope you send it to Mr. Egger and Ms. Goldberg, and Ted Diadiun and anyone else you can think of who should be listening to you (well, who shouldn't be listening to you, after all!).

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Wendy,

Good luck.



Kristin Ohlson said...

Wow, I'm cheering in the stands, Wendy! All great suggestions. Hope lots of people read this.

Roldo said...

Good advice but don't hold your breath.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks to all for commenting here and for those of you who have taken time to comment via e-mail.

I remain guardedly optimistic. I don't kid myself for a second that anyone over there pays any mind to what I have to say. But you never know.

We rant because we care, no?