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Trying to pay for my local paper

I called the Duluth News Tribune a couple of weeks ago to ask if I could give them some money. They said no.

Since then I’ve sent a couple of emails and made more phone calls. The poor folks in the circulation department think I’m a crank. I’m not. I just want to pay for the local news I consume.

I told them I don’t want a paper edition of the News Tribune any more. I told them I’m no longer willing to stuff pounds and pounds of newsprint and glossy ads into paper bags each week.

I don’t want you to bring the paper to my door, I told them, because I read the paper online now. I want to pay you for that, I said.

“The online paper is a free service,” said the first customer service rep I talked with.

I told her I understood that, but I wanted to pay anyway.

She said I couldn’t do that. Maybe, she said, I could donate my paper to Newspapers in Education.

That won’t work, I told her. I don’t want the Duluth News Tribune to print a paper for me and give it to someone else. I don’t want them to print a paper for me at all. I read the News Tribune online and I just want to pay for that, I said.

Nope, she said.

So I canceled my subscription, but I wrote them a check for $205.40. That’s what a 52-week subscription costs.

Then I wrote a letter to the editor.

I explained that I hardly touch the paper edition of the DNT that gets plunked on my front steps every morning, but I read the news online and I want the Duluth News Tribune to continue reporting. I want Brandon Stahl to tell me what’s going on at City Hall. I want Christa Lawler to tell me about a must-see concert that’s coming up this weekend.

I wrote that in our current crazy system the News Tribune and most newspapers give their news away on the Web, but I know the news isn’t free.

I asked them to accept my check and keep up the reporting. I told them the work they do is essential to a healthy society and I want them to stay at it.

The editor of the opinion page wrote back right away. He thanked me. He said it was a really nice letter, but they publish “neither consumer complaint or consumer praise,” so they’re not going to print it.

I hope they cash the check.

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37 Comment(s)

  1. Effing brilliant.

    vicarious | Dec 3, 2009 | New Comment
  2. Then don’t write it as a “customer” submit a similar “story” as a free-lance writer, or maybe a guest editor?

    You’ve already changed my opinion about online newspaper editions. I figured the data mining that goes along with my “registration” to see the news and ad space that takes up 1/3 of each page was payment enough. I figured all that produced revenue, but with all the papers going under lately as print circulation declines, it just isn’t enough to be sustainable.

    If we all want quality local reporting online, we should be willing to subscribe.

    BryGuy | Dec 3, 2009 | New Comment
  3. Confused about why you want to pay for something that’s free. Being a pain in the a$$ for the heck of it? Why don’t you just turn off adblock and click on all their ads? Or attempt to view an older article, which DOES require payment?

    Karasu | Dec 3, 2009 | New Comment
  4. All papers will be online soon. It’s
    the way it’s going to go. I also hate
    to toss newspapers in the trash. What a complete waste. Often I use them to pack
    Ebay items.

    Wes Scott | Dec 3, 2009 | New Comment
  5. Um, news is free. I get it on the TV daily. I’m pretty sure they only make you pay for the actual paper that the words are printed on… Not completely sure, but I get my news either on the internet (for free) or television. News should always be free. It’s kinda our given right to know what is going on in our community. I’m sure some people disagree.

    Me | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  6. If they don’t cash that check (that you wrote for absolutely nothing… because it’s free…) I’ll take it! (I mean seriously, donate it to charity or something! I know LSS Renaissance is always looking for funding. Currently they have 6 homeless youth that could use some awesome Christmas presents. 104 w. first st)

    Me | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  7. If u have money to throw around, donate some to the less fortunate and to heck with the news tribune. They don’t need to money.

    Joe rogers | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  8. You do pay for the news you read online. You pay for it by being exposed to advertisements. The money that you pay for the newspaper subsidizes the cost of printing and delivering the paper — in fact, only very large newspapers make any revenue off of distribution. Very small newspapers often lose money on distribution.

    Jason | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  9. You could donate the $200 and change to the PartsGuy’s SUV Needs An Upgraded Stereo Fund.

    Barring that, give it to the United Way.

    PartsGuy | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  10. I want them to STOP delivering Budgeteers. JUST STOP!

    To the extremely poor looking Budgeteer deliverers, if there are 3 of them on my porch, NO I DO NOT want another.

    mevdev | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  11. when you buy a newspaper, you’re not buying the paper -- you’re buying the news. news costs money because it’s someone’s livelihood to gather and report. yep it’s “free” if you’re willing to do the work of finding out for yourself, but otherwise you pay just like for any service.

    it’s not hard to understand that someone who values that service would want to support it financially, whether it’s delivered on paper or electronically. it also makes perfect sense to me that someone who wants to see better journalism in his community would advocate for a system that gives the newspaper more money to hire more staff and provide better coverage. that’s way more productive than just saying “dnt sucks” and watching a half-hour of free news, if you want to call it that, on television.

    doubledutch | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  12. Do they get paid more if I click on ads? I wouldn’t mind doing more of that. I mostly agree with Chris, though. I think they should print his letter, too, (maybe in the Rob Karwath column’s spot that seems like wasted space to me about half the time, anyway.) By the time my weekend only paper subscription arrives I’ve already read most of the stories online and it just piles up around the house so I suspect we will be canceling it soon. But I’d be more likely to keep it if my subscription gave me free access to the “vault” that’d be handy for research, records, and just plain fun … I’m an information nerd like that

    wildgoose | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  13. “when you buy a newspaper, you’re not buying the paper”

    Actually, you are buying the paper. The ads in the paper are buying the news.

    “Do they get paid more if I click on ads?”

    The answer to that is, “it depends on the newspaper”. One of the cool things about newspapers and their general autonomy from one another is that they often have wildly different monetization strategies. I’m not sure exactly what the trib does.

    I suspect that at most papers, clickthroughs on national ads tend to bring more revenue than impressions, but national ads bring so little revenue that it probably doesn’t matter. Local online ads that are sold directly to local businesses by the paper’s ad reps tend to make the most for OUR customers (once again, I don’t know what the trib does) and those usually don’t have a clickthrough component as the newspapers usually don’t have the tools to track that sort of stuff.

    What does matter is pageviews, because that’s what unofficially sells online ads right now. After the dust settles, it may be that that’s the new “circulation” value that we care about.

    Jason | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  14. They don’t get more money if you click more ads, unless it’s a Google ad. Most online ads are based on a running for set amount of time, with an estimate of how many times the ad will appear on the page. Thus the recent big debate over “impressions” and how they’re counted.

    I still prefer reading the environmentally unfriendly paper version of the DNT, Strib and magazines. I already spend enough time in front of a computer screen. So don’t get me a Kindle for Christmas this year.

    brian | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  15. “I still prefer reading the environmentally unfriendly paper version of the DNT, Strib and magazines.”

    The newspaper is bulky and non-linear (this article continues on page 3C…) and I personally find the online version to be more convenient. But readers like you are the reason why I’m confident that print editions will exist for at least another decade.

    That said, I really prefer to hold magazines and books in my hands to read them — esp. photography magazines. Photos on a monitor simply don’t compare to a well-printed magazine.

    Jason | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  16. Mevdev: If you contact the Budgeteer and ask them to take you off their delivery list, they will. Or if you happen to see them delivering, just ask them--they did it for me a few weeks ago. Of course, when they get another delivery driver in your neighborhood, you’ll have to contact them again.

    But they won’t stop the Budgeteer until it stops making them money. By delivering it free to everyone who does not ask to be taken off the distribution list, they have bloated distribution numbers and use that to attract advertisers. And as long as the advertisers make it profitable, they’ll keep doing it.

    Tony D. | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  17. The ads in the paper don’t begin to pay for the cost of gathering the news. And advertisers won’t advertise unless they think the newspaper has paying subscribers.

    Whether Chris gives money to charity isn’t really relevant. He’s trying to pay for a service he receives and values. The paper is committing suicide by giving that service away online, and yet it has failed to devise a way even to accept money from an online reader who offers it.

    Sure, you can get news free online and on TV, but where do you think most of that reporting originates? In newspapers, where reporters are paid to dig it up. Most websites just aggregate news that appeared originally in newspapers. TV, with its paltry handful of overworked reporters, depends heavily on local papers to find the news it follows.

    Yes, the DNT sucks, but I want someone to go to City Hall and tell me what they’re up to over there, and no one else is going to do it. The paper has to devise a way to let us pay for that service without the waste and the unacceptable carbon footprint of a paper paper.

    bluenewt | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  18. I’m all in for getting rid of the waste of newspapers, so can anyone suggest the best way to balance my laptop on my knees in the bathroom?

    skybub | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  19. “The ads in the paper don’t begin to pay for the cost of gathering the news.”

    What causes you to believe this? I’m curious because I write software that opens new ad revenue streams for newspapers, and this runs opposite of everything that I have observed in the industry.

    “And advertisers won’t advertise unless they think the newspaper has paying subscribers.”

    Most newspapers are audited by the ABC ( and their ABC audit determines their circulation numbers. Advertisers don’t have to “think” that the newspapers have paying subscribers; newspapers will always base rates on their ABC circulation and share their ABC circulation with advertisers.

    Jason | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  20. TV tray.

    bluenewt | Dec 4, 2009 | New Comment
  21. It’s unfortunate but absolutely true that branding/exposure sells free services. Does anyone actually ever click on the ads?

    I mean, I can get the whole subliminal thing, but the last time I clicked on one (not including the one on this site a few days ago, which turned out to be misleading and brought my perfectly innocent web browser to a different ad distribution server; whole other story).

    I digress. The last time I wanted to click on a sidebar ad was about 8 years ago. ’nuff said.

    Oh, and, don’t use your TV tray in the bathtub :-)

    huitz | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  22. “What causes you to believe this? I’m curious because I write software that opens new ad revenue streams for newspapers, and this runs opposite of everything that I have observed in the industry.”

    Really? Everything you have observed in the industry involves online ads paying for gathering of the news? I’m not sure what industry you have been observing, but it certainly isn’t the industry of newspapers. An article last year by Editor & Publisher magazine revealed the only paper who has really made the online business profitable to a large extent and by that I mean paying for all the jobs in the newsroom is the L.A. Times. The online ads in newspapers supplement the cost of gathering news, but it is a far cry from actually paying for it.

    Mac | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  23. “Really? Everything you have observed in the industry involves online ads paying for gathering of the news?”

    No, everything I’ve observed involves ads paying for news. You added the “online”. I don’t know, but I suspect that the majority of newspaper revenue comes from print editions still. That’s why they’re so worried.

    What I’m saying is: your subscription to the newspaper doesn’t make them any money. It doesn’t even cover the cost of printing and distributing the damn thing (unless you are paying someone like the L.A. Times; large newspapers can use the economy of scale to make subscriptions profitable).

    How much money do you think papers spend on gathering news, anyway? It’s not much. They spend as much or more on selling ads, because ads are their revenue stream. Unless they’re very large, once again, but I think we can safely say that the New York Times is the exception to the rule, and not the rule.

    Jason | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  24. True Jason.

    Mac | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  25. I would think the only way they would benefit from someone clicking on an ad was if that particular advertiser saw an increase in sales of its product or service from advertising online and then decided to continue advertising with them because they thought it was effective. Just clicking on an ad doesn’t the advertiser a sale.

    HN | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  26. You might be interested in the article: Taking The Plunge: How Newspaper Sites That Charge Are Faring

    It says”…some small- and medium-circulation papers are coming up with their own formulas to get readers to pony up for access to their websites. We checked in with some of these papers to find out how much they are charging and how they’re faring.”

    It goes on to list newspapers around the U.S. that are charging for a subscription to their site.

    HN | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  27. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but here goes…

    There’s a term for this business model, but I don’t know what it’s called. With my innate hatred of such a thing, PDD actually does an excellent job, since they make a good effort to subtly pair up consumers with products. Paul made a good post a short while ago with the “suggestion box” throw-out about gaining readership match with local interest. A simple survey. Brilliant.

    I would, on the other hand, blast my snobbery at that.

    Question then: Does advertisement provide dissemination of knowledge?
    Answer: To a large degree

    Question: Is that a bad thing?
    Answer: Depends

    just my 2 euro

    huitz | Dec 5, 2009 | New Comment
  28. Instead of paying a right-wing corporation that’s hacked our community’s paper to bits, why don’t you donate to, which is trying to start a real community newspaper on a nonprofit model?

    rediguana | Dec 6, 2009 | New Comment
  29. The Hillsider Newspaper is non-profit and accepts donations too.

    HN | Dec 6, 2009 | New Comment
  30. wildgoose | Dec 12, 2009 | New Comment
  31. jay | Dec 13, 2009 | New Comment
  32. Wow, Chris, did you say the exact same words to Rob Karwath that you typed here? Verbatim?

    udarnik | Dec 13, 2009 | New Comment
  33. Rather, did you e-mail to him what you typed here?

    udarnik | Dec 13, 2009 | New Comment
  34. Ah, disregard all that. I see you essentially put your e-mail here. It was just funny to read it here and then suddenly see it there as if for the first time.

    udarnik | Dec 13, 2009 | New Comment
  35. As you note, udarnik, Rob is quoting from the letter I sent with my check.

    But he did call me a couple of days ago. We had a good talk.

    He’s earnest about finding a way to fit electronic subscriptions into the mix. And if the DNT goes with software something like Olive for its e-edition that would be quite cool. It presents a very readable digital version of the paper edition, and it offers awesome archive access.

    Chris Julin | Dec 13, 2009 | New Comment
  36. I wouldn’t object to paying for an online DNT per se, but a big part of my interaction with news content is talking about it with other people. If a subscription wall makes that impossible, the source isn’t as useful/interesting to me. I wonder if there’s a workable means of facilitating sharing while preserving the revenue-generating aspect of a subscription model.

    the Big E | Dec 15, 2009 | New Comment
  37. Well, other people could pay for the subscription too, just like they do for the newspaper.

    HN | Dec 15, 2009 | New Comment

2 Trackback(s)

  1. Dec 8, 2009: from Thanks for the free lunch, newspapers « Peoria Pundit
  2. Jan 11, 2010: from Freedom of Information vs. Payment for Web News — Secrets of the City — Minneapolis + St. Paul

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