in Geezer, Media, Raleigh, Reviews

News and Observer and I part ways

Over the summer the bank canceled the credit card used by thieves on their New Jersey shopping spree. This was the same card used to pay for our News and Observer subscription, and on 12 July our subscription officially expired. The N&O continued to deliver papers and supplemented that with several letters in the mail asking us to call them. After repeatedly leaving messages for Miriam Widger, the newspaper’s “Audience Retention and Collection Agent,” she finally called me back.

Miriam told me we could continue to subscribe for the incredibly low price of $351 for 52 weeks.

“Gosh,” I responded, “I see on your website that we can get a new subscription for only $109.20 for 52 weeks. Why would you charge your long-time customers three times as much as a new subscriber?”

Miriam didn’t have an answer for that. She was willing to drop the rate down to what it was three years ago ($275/year) but would not honor the new subscription rate. Sadly, I had to tell her I would get us square on what we owed but that would be it. So now, for the first time since I was in elementary school, I am not a newspaper reader.

This decision wasn’t made lightly. I posted this to Twitter on 12 July, the day of our first overdue notice:

I have been a loyal newspaper reader all my life but the sharp decline of @newsobserver is making me question its value. Sad.

A friend then urged me to continue to support it, to which I replied:

I am really torn about this. I want to support newspapers but lately I’m getting far less return for my investment. I have many friends who are staffers there and I love their work. This is not a knock against them or what they do, because they’re awesome at what they do. It’s the business side which has really gotten to me. Huge rate hikes, pop-under ads on the main website, charging me extra to deliver ad-heavy holiday papers, quietly changing the policy of missed papers so no credit is given, not redelivering for missed deliveries. All of this is Customer Service 101, and management’s decision to make these changes is what’s driving me away.

In my travels around the country, I’ve encountered several healthy, thriving newspapers and it always startles me. “How could this be? I thought the newspaper industry is dying? How could this paper be so healthy?” It’s all about how the business is run. McClatchy has bled this paper dry and it’s a real shame.

I hold newspapers in very high regard. Still, I’m not feeling the love from the N&O and I’m asking myself how much longer I can put up with it. If I feel I am getting real value instead of being asked to pay more for less content (often through sneaky, quietly-added additional fees as mentioned above), I will be happy to continue supporting it. As it stands now, I beginning to feel that the N&O is treating its subscribers as suckers.

When another friend urged support, I responded:

If Drescher and gang came out and said, “look, advertising isn’t making it happen. We need another $5 (say) from you per month and HERE’S WHAT IT WILL GET YOU,” I would most likely be happy to pay it BUT I like to see something in return for my added fees. Instead, it seems I’ve been asked to pay more and more and gotten less and less in return. This money is going where? To pay down McClatchy’s debt? How about investing it in some actual journalism instead? I do not like feeling like I am McClatchy’s ATM machine.

So, over the last three years a yearly subscription rose from $275 to $351, a 22% increase for you math-averse folks. The paper has shrunk considerably in that time, too. What was once a front section and a local section were combined, making it unsharable at the breakfast table.

Now a redesign has been put in place and, while I’ve been trying to keep an open mind, I’ve decided I’m not a fan. The italic fonts in the headlines – I don’t know what it is about them but they drive my English Nazi sensibilities bonkers. It irks me that headlines are left-justified, too. Also, the formatting is such that I have a hard time finding the start of a story. I don’t know if it’s the extra white space between the headline and the story or what but it’s not as easy as it was.

I also noticed yesterday that most of the ads are targeting old people: hearing aids, miracle cures for something or other, estate planning. It’s apparent that I’m not in the target audience (or am I? I’m not that old yet? Right?).

The paper’s digital app holds some hope but I can’t get it to work half the time. If I click on a story I’m soon only looking at two advertisements, the story somehow disappears. It’s also crazy expensive at $20 per month (but new subscribers get it for $9.95/month. What?).

It’s tough parting ways with a newspaper habit I’ve had all my life but the N&O has changed and I guess I’ve changed, too. I don’t feel like I’m getting the value I used to. If that changes some day maybe I’ll be back. I hope so.

  1. We’ve been contemplating dropping the paper too. The catalyst for us has been a severe drop in delivery dependability. I know it shouldn’t, but it tanks my morning when I have to get mad about not getting the paper. I’m open to alternatives.

  2. We recently restarted our subscription. Within days we were back to spotty delivery. For the past two mornings, the paper has arrived about the time we were leaving. Not good.

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