The Plain Truth about the Plain Dealer

We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog entry – Reason #3 in The Reason Why series – for a gripe session about, you guessed it, the new online Plain Dealer.  For those of you who don’t live in Cleveland Ohio, the Plain Dealer, established 1842, is Cleveland’s only surviving daily newspaper.  Or perhaps, I should say it was the city’s only surviving daily newspaper.

Beginning yesterday, the Plain Dealer moved to a primarily digital format.  Going forward the print edition will only be produced Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  On the other four days of the week, we’ll use the online version.  Oh wait a minute, I misspoke.  The paper will still be produced every day.  In fact, you can purchase it daily at numerous outlets, but … and this is the kicker … home delivery is only available on the three aforementioned days.

I’d hoped that eliminating home delivery might mean a later production cycle and more up-to-the-minute news, but no such luck.  Last night, A-rod the lightning rod played his first game of the season.   The first pitch was thrown at approximately 8:10 PM and the game finished at 11:23 PM eastern time.  My link to an electronic copy of the Plain Dealer arrived in my inbox at 4:47 AM and did not contain a box score for the game.

Preparing for four paperless days per weeks was relatively simple.  NOT.

All I had to do was follow these simple steps:

1 – Go to plaindealer.com.  Is this the same as Cleveland.com?  I’m still not sure.

2 – Once there (wherever there is), register.

3 – Then install a few simple apps from Google Play on my Smartphone – the Plain Dealer app, Indians app, Browns app, and Cavs apps (for Android).

4 – Then, fire up the iPad, go to Apple’s App Store, download and install the same four apps for the tablet, plus one more, the Cleveland.com app.  Since I’m not sure on the difference between Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer, I download both, just in case.

See how easy that was?

Browsing the online paper is almost as easy as registering for it.  Clicking on the link appearing in my Gmail inbox (once I find it, which is harder than it used to be thanks to Google’s new tabbed approach to sorting email.  Gmail considers the newspaper a promotion) takes me to a screen on the Plain Dealer site.  The left hand side of the screen is filled with an image of page 1 and the right pane contains headline links.

BTW, you must use the link in the email.  The actual URL is long, hard to remember and doesn’t fit any conventional format.  Also, the email link contains subscriber information unique to me.  As far as I know, you can’t just go to plaindealer.com and read the news.  I tried.  That URL takes you to a corporate site, not a news site.  There are a few headlines to click on.  Oddly, they take you to Cleveland.com, not to the Plain Dealer news site.

On the subscriber site, the page image displayed when you visit is useless, too small for any human being to read.  Fortunately, clicking an article on the image brings up a readable format in the right hand pane.  The headline “What if Haslam steps down?” catches my eye.  I click on it.  I’m brought to a story about Sammy’s (local restaurant and catering service) abruptly shutting down.  That’s not the story I wanted.  Damn.

Fourteen headlines occupy the right pane in today’s edition.  If I want to read any of those fourteen stories, I’m in luck.  Clicking on a headline link from the right pane brings me to a large-enough-to-read version of the story.   But, there are more than fourteen stories in the paper today.  If I want to read any of the other ones, I have to flip the pages in the left pane.  Each flip brings up another too small to read print image.  I can make out the bigger headlines on the image, but not the smaller ones.  Each story is clickable.  Clicking brings up the text for the story in the right hand pane, but that’s makes for terrible skimming.  It’s not how I like to read the newspaper

There’s also a button marked Browse.  Clicking on it brings up two side by side page images, both of which are far too small to read.  I can click on the left or right arrow buttons to scroll to the next or previous equally small page image.  If I click on a page, the image zooms in, but only fills the top half of the screen.  Now the font is large enough to read, but to view the page I need to use the scroll bars to move left to right and up and down.  This isn’t a great option.

Wait a second, there’s another choice – the “pages “button.   This brings up a series of thumbnails, one for each page of today’s edition.  Each section of the paper has its own row of thumbnails.  I can’t read any of them, but I do recognize the obituary section from the blurry black spots that must be portraits of the dearly deceased.  Clicking on any page brings up a list of headlines for that page in the right side pane of my browser.  Finally, we’re getting somewhere.  Using the left, right, and up arrow buttons, I think I could navigate to any story with minimal clicking.  This will work, it’s just not the way I’m accustomed to reading the newspaper.

I decide to check out Cleveland.com and see if that’s any easier or better.  I’ve used this site in the past and never been impressed.  Not much has changed.  The banner proudly displays “Cleveland.com powered by Plain Dealer” (or Sun News, the text changes every few seconds).  The menu options resemble the section titles of the newspaper – News, Local news, Business, Sports, H.S Sports, Entertainment.  Each section has their own headlines, none of which match the headlines on the Plain Dealer site.

I decide to check out the Indians app I downloaded to my iPad.  My first impression is not a good one.  The app is an iPhone app, not an iPad app.  That means it’s a little tiny window, about the size of a phone surrounded by a huge black margin.  Clicking on the 2x button makes the cruddy little app twice as big.

None of the stories match.  On the Plain Dealer site, the story about last night’s tribe game begins “Alex Avila hit a three-run homer off Chris Perez …”   On my iPad, the story begins “Center fielder Michael Bourn called it one of the toughest losses of the seasons …”  Both stories were written by Paul Hoynes, the PD beat writer for the Tribe.   On Cleveland.com, the story (written by Glenn Moore, not Paul Hoynes) begins “The Cleveland Indians were three outs away from winning the first game …”

The difference between the Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com is clear as mud.  Over time, I will become acclimated to the new tools.  I’m sure they’ll improve and I’ll get better at using them, but they’re no substitute for holding the paper in your hands, smelling the fresh newsprint and thumbing through the pages.  Most importantly, my morning reading break in the restroom will never be the same, at least not on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

Till the next post, chris

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7 thoughts on “The Plain Truth about the Plain Dealer

  1. I didn’t have as many troubles as above, but nonetheless, for 30 plus years I enjoyed having the sports page spread out on the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal on top. And I never had to worry about spilling some milk. Now, I don’t think my iPad would appreciate it !

    They do have a lot of kinks to work out. Several times this morning, the PD app crashed on me. That’s already annoying me!

    • I’m sure I’ll get used to it over time, and it will get better. Still not sure I’ll ever like it as well as holding the paper in my hands though. And so much for reading the paper on a plane. Keep the milk off your ipad!

  2. Wholeheartedly agree – nothing like eating breakfast over a newspaper, or the special room for the comics. I thought I had a plan resubscribing to the WSJ for intelligent articles and the new herald for local stuff (and the comics), but evidently one person delivers all the papers on our street. This morning I got some gardening done, and if no paper tomorrow maybe I’ll go for a bike ride. Maybe the PD did my health a favor …

  3. Unfortunately it will take a while forUX to be recognized as a true discipline . Many businesses don’t know how it fits into their product until consumers tell them it is missing. Great post , Chris

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