Newspapers and the failure to deliver

I recently had coffee and went to a movie with a longtime friend. He lives in Chapel Hill, and I live in Raleigh. So we met in Durham.

It was what former New York Times writer Jennifer 8. Lee would call a “man date.” Part of the conversation went like this:

Him: “Did I tell you that we canceled our subscription to The News & Observer?”

Me: “No, really? Why?”

Him: “The main reason is they didn’t deliver it for five straight days, so I’d had enough.”

Me: “Wow. That’s pretty bad. Did you call to complain?”

Him: “Yeah. The first day, I did the automated complaint. When the paper didn’t come the next day, I insisted on talking to a person. I did get someone on the phone, but still no paper. So I canceled.”

Me: “How will you get your news?”

Him: “We started getting the Sunday New York Times.”

Me: “What about local news?”

Him: “We still get the Chapel Hill News, and I pick up The Carrboro Citizen. I set up an RSS feed from other sources, and I read the Chapelboro site from WCHL.”

Me: “So you feel like you know what’s going on?”

Him: “Yeah, and to be honest, I wasn’t getting local news in the N&O as much as I used to anyway.”

I share this story as another example of how newspapers are hurting themselves. The self-inflicted wounds include questionable business decisions and a lack of vision for the shift of advertising away from print. But the failure to carry out the basic function of a newspaper — to  provide news of interest and to deliver it to the driveways of paying customers — is practically suicidal.



  1. Those automated systems suck. The N&R’s totally messed up my vacation stop/start in July, and it was a simple one at that.

  2. Five days in a row is a sort of freakishly long time to not get any newspaper, but it might be explained by something that’s been pointed out to me by various people—the people who deliver the papers aren’t kids who have one paper route each (as I’m sure you know). The papers are being delivered by adults who have several routes, and often multiple other jobs to boot. More and more people have to use this crazy-quilt method of employment to make any sort of living, and when, for instance, their kids get sick, they don’t get to call the newspaper and say they can’t come in. The fellow who delivers my newspaper is in just such a situation, and sometimes our paper is late, but he’s a nice guy, and since I’ve found out about his circumstances it doesn’t irk me so much. Just some Psych 101 from a bleeding-heart liberal.

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