Except when i was deployed on Navy ships, i have been reading newspapers daily since 1950 (of course, the first “reads” were looking at the photos and the comics). Seventy years. There were times when i was getting morning and daily papers, conservative and liberal. On many Sunday mornings in Newport, Rhode Island, i would buy The New York Times and spend most of the day reading the whole thing, methodically going through each section i had spread across the living room floor. Since Maureen retired, reading the morning San Diego Union-Tribune at breakfast has become part of a tradition for starting my day.
i worked in the newspaper business nearly thirty years from office boy to editor to correspondent to op-ed columnist.
i have spent untold hours communicating with others i have known in the newspaper business about the state of the art, why it was declining, what could be done.
On the first of August 2020, this will all end with a sad goodbye.
i have cancelled my subscription to the Union-Tribune. That’s it.
It ain’t worth it. And i can’t get a straight answer even if can understand the “customer service” (an oxymoron if i ever met one) agent.
You see, when we received our last bill, the subscription fee had risen to $164 for eight weeks, that’s over a $1,000 a year. Wow!
So i called. The language barrier was so bad, i couldn’t even understand the guy’s name. And yes, i had my hearing aid in my right ear. And yes, he might have had some difficulty understanding my Tennessee twang because, no, even after being all over the place in the Navy for 22 years, and having been in the Southwest corner for 31 years since my completion of active duty, i still sound like i am from Tennessee…and proud of it.
When i informed the young man why i was cancelling, he didn’t even wait for me to finish to tell me they would generously lower the fee to $124 for eight weeks. Yep: just a bit over $800 annually. What a deal. When i protested even more, he reluctantly and not so generously dropped the fee to $94 for eight weeks.
So having learned some stuff from bartering in Tijuana years ago, i pushed my luck. No dice. This kid must not be from Tijuana. Didn’t sound like it anyway. And, i discovered, his supervisor must have been in another country than him. He couldn’t let me talk to him.
Now to be fair, this fee is for the electronic version and what they now call the “hard” copy daily delivery. We only use the electronic version…actually, only i use the electronic version and that’s when i’m traveling and i haven’t been traveling except for an occasional distance observing, mask wearing trip to Home Depot two or three times in the last four months and am not likely to be going anywhere else for the foreseeable future.
But guess what? You get a break if you just get the electronic version. You have to pay extra to get the hard copy, but it comes with the electronic version, you know, the one we don’t use.
They also have this deal where you can get the Thursday through Sunday hard copy or Sunday edition only in paper.
i would give you the exact cost for all of the options but that, my friends, i have discovered is a moving target. If you go to their website, all you can get is the fees for “introductory” offers and i don’t think after 70 years of newspaper experience on both ends of creating and reading and 35 years of subscribing to this paper or one of its version before they killed the afternoon Tribune puts me in the need for anything “introductory.” And there is no way one can determine what the fee will be after the “introductory” period. Hmm, thinking about it, i guess it doesn’t make any difference since whatever the real fee is, it will go up as soon as the financial whizzes with their superb “customer service” figure they can sneak it pass the subscriber, aka me.
Now, this kind of marketing, gouging the customer nonsense amazes me. You see, newspapers, especially large city newspapers are dying. This particular one reduced the size (width and height) some years ago so they could charge more for less. Then they started reducing the newsprint, i.e. actual news, to cram in more advertisements. Now with COVID, it is, i estimate, about one quarter of the amount of news it used to be and the sports section is not a section but a couple of many-ads pages in the back of the business section.
Insulted when i realized the extent they were yanking me around, i cancelled. And this was after we had finally reached the point where the “agent” and i could have an intelligible conversation.
i had pretty much stopped reading anything but the sports and the comics anyway. Maureen would read the other sections, but i didn’t want to get depressed that early in the morning. In fairness, the Union-Tribune is a bit less biased than most large dailies in my opinion. However, news journalism of all kinds has taken a dive over the last few decades. News stories aren’t. Period. They don’t follow the basics i learned because the reporters wish to be spectacular, lure you in, push their opinion, and slew the facts to get you to buy into their great writing or political position or both.
You see, when i was in the business, i believed the first paragraph of a news story should never, NEVER, be more than 25 words, and should tell the reader what, when, where, and how of the news article’s substance. Doesn’t happen very much anymore. Check it out.
But, but, Maureen and i have loved our tradition of the tactile feeling as well as of the reading the newspaper over juice, coffee, eggs, toast, and fruit each morning. So i decided to try again this morning.
i walked through the interminable and magic telephone recorded voice tree for about five minutes, less than the norm these days and thankfully with no really bad elevator music to reach a young lady who was decidedly worse at English as a Second Language than the previous agent. i asked her for the exact, non-introductory, special pricing on all the options available so i could determine to cancel my cancellation or not. Apparently, they had not trained her for such an inquiry. There was a long silence, the only thing i had understood in this call so far. Then she began to recite all of the “introductory” offers.
i gave up. i told her i was not upset with her. i hope she understood because now i was screaming into my phone. i asked her to forward my displeasure to her superiors, which i am almost sure she didn’t because of that different countries problem. i hoped as they had warned the conversation had been recorded because perhaps, perhaps one of the marketing geniuses might listen and actually have a brain to understand. Fat chance.
So it’s over. In just a bit more than three weeks, i will be out of the newspaper thing. Oh, if i were back home, i would still read one or both of the local newspapers there. But out here in the Southwest corner, the newspaper boys have killed it for me, and i believe are already ringing that death knell for the their business.
And oh, i wish i could sit down with “Coach” JB Leftwich and Fred Russell, and Bill Roberts, and J. Bill Frame, and John “Yanch” Johnson…and Yanch, you may be getting a call soon because you, Lee Dowdy, Andrew Nemethy, and David Hall, if i can figure out how to contact him, are about the only ones with whom i could talk about the demise of newspapers as we knew them.
It will be a very, very sad goodbye.