Monday, October 8, 2012

I stand corrected...

I apologize.  Apparently I was the only one disappointed by the new "expanded" editions of my local formerly-daily newspaper, THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  Although it is now published only three days a week instead of seven, the newly formed entity responsible for both the printed and digital editions has repeatedly told subscribers that those three papers would offer much more content and would be well worth only getting three-sevenths of what we pay for.

Well, in my previous post here, I expressed my disappointment in the initial edition, which landed somewhere in the same zip code as my driveway on Wednesday.  Disappointment on a number of fronts, including LESS content, a staggering number of typos, pages padded with larger fonts and big ads for the paper itself, it's digital affiliate, and employment ads for the new company.  (That last one especially vexed me, because we all know they furloughed a bunch of people and immediately began running those "we are hiring" ads, yet a cursory look at Alabama Media Group's employment site elicited the cryptic phrase "no active job openings at this time."  Huh?)

(Incidentally, they must be getting a bit of negative feedback.  I note that we can now subscribe to a daily "obituary" email that lands in our in-boxes if we are afraid we might miss the death and burial of a friend or acquaintance due to the infrequent publication schedule of the new newspaper.  Seems a tad ghoulish but who knows?  And they will also be offering an "early edition" of the Sunday sports section, available on Saturday, to fill the gap in high school sports coverage.  How that will work after football season remains to be seen.  I can't see many wanting to rush out and get an "early edition" of the Sunday sports pages to check prep track and field results in the spring.)

I must have been wrong in my hasty opinions.  In Sunday's print edition, there was an article--the latest in a series of their "here's why this is happening" expositions--in which Kevin Wendt, their vice-president/content, gushed at what an overwhelmingly positive response there was to their three-day-a-week "expanded" edition.

He should know.  He is VP/content.  Surely they are giving him feedback.

I have no idea.  I'm just a subscriber who felt otherwise, based on my observation of all three editions so far.  Nothing in Friday's or Sunday's papers has caused me to change my mind.  (By the way, what is it with the two-inch strip of white that now appears at the bottom of each page?  Is that the same tactic THE NEWS used several months ago when they clipped the horizontal size of the paper by what appears to be two columns on each side without telling anybody?  When their "broadsheet" became a "not-so-broadsheet?"  They just need to make sure they adjust ads in their classified section accordingly.  Yesterday, a bunch of classified display ads were clipped at the bottom and I know those will be hefty refunds or make-goods the paper will have to swallow.)

No, if Mr. Wendt maintains folks have absolutely been thrilled by the new, expanded content, I suppose he is in a position to know.  My sample is only the several dozen people with whom I have discussed this.  And it has been exactly 100% negative with no margin of error.

Mr. Wendt further maintains as a very positive sign the fact that hits on were up 28% at the first of last week.  Wow!  With several players for Alabama injured over the weekend and with their future statuses unknown in time for that weekend's Sunday paper, the presidential candidates debating each other, a family killed by fleeing (alleged) felons in a car crash, and other relatively major stories breaking--and no newspaper on Monday or Tuesday to give us the details--a few more people decided to wade through the maze of headlines, pop-up ads, and junk that is's cluttered and unfriendly interface to try to find out more.  I wonder what their impression was of how they will now have to attempt to get their news fix.

Sorry I cannot directly address more of Mr. Wendt's reassurances.  Nor can I, in the spirit of fairness, give you a link here to his reassuring words.  See, we tossed the Sunday paper--except for the coupons--in time for the garbage truck this morning.  And despite spending most of the past hour trying to find the column on, I was unable to do so.

I suppose THE NEWS was afraid that wonderful and reassuring piece might have been viewed as too self-serving by the booming new digital readership.

Don Keith

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