Does the Seattle Times have a death wish? I know the idea sounds crazy. We’re told all the time (in the Seattle Times) how heroically it’s fighting to survive in these parlous Times for the press. And I’m speaking only from my own experience, over years of trying to subscribe to the paper. I suppose if anyone else has had a similar experience we’ll hear about it in Comments.
The first time I suspected the Times might have looked too long into an abyss was nearly a decade ago, when I went to buy a digital subscription and discovered the price was nearly $400 a year—hard to feature when I could get the online New York Times for a dollar a week and the WaPo for even less. But even if I couldn’t afford the sub, I could get a couple SeaTimes newsletters to keep tabs on local headlines and determine which occasional articles I wanted to read free—right?
Wrong. I enrolled and signed up again and again for one newsletter or another—Morning Brief, Evening Brief, even, warily (those stodgy editorials, and where do they get those columnists?) Viewpoint. Alas, no Local News or Danny Westneat newsletter is offered. And again and again—nothing.
For years, the newsletters never arrived. Would any newspaper with a healthy lust for life brush off a would-be reader like this? I wondered briefly if some editor who was still miffed at something snooty I wrote decades ago had put me on the “Do not serve” list, but then remembered that I’d been writing a few features for the paper’s Pacific magazine..
A year or two later I tried again and—bingo! The newsletters arrived. The items in them were frustrating—unlike the pithy summaries provided in NYT newsletters–and mostly clickbait to encourage readers to subscribe. Fair enough—at least the paper was trying.
At the same, the Seattle Times’ online subscription rates came down a bit; they’re now $5 a week, only five times what I pay for the New York Times, with a Sunday paper thrown in if you want it. (I presume they want to keep the numbers up for their most viable ad vehicle.) When I went to sign up, I found an even better promotional deal: online sub plus daily paper for about $2 or $3 a week for something like seven months, after which it would kick up to full price (currently $617.48 a year). A genuine newsprint newspaper every morning—what a concept!
Alas, I discovered that I, like nearly everyone else, had drifted too far from that old newsprint notion. Reading the paper, or at least scanning it for things worth reading, became as much a chore as a nostalgic ritual. Retrieving copies from the bushes in the chill and rain was a small misery. The only Seattleite I know who still subscribes to the daily printed newspaper has unread, rolled up papers piled like cordwood in her living room. “They’re having a hard time,” she says when asked why she still gets them. Of course she only has to pay about $360 a year for them. Airline pricing, caveat emptor.
I tried to give the Times a break. I told its circulation people to switch my daily sub to online-only and save a few bucks on printing and delivery. Oh no, they said, that would kick you up to the (higher) full online rate. Okay, I tried, I said, and fished the paper out of the bushes for a few more months, then cancelled home delivery and got an online-plus-Sunday sub.
Then the Times delivered another curve ball. Along with the daily news briefs, I started receiving several installments a day of something called “Fan Fix” which “covers all things sports, with an emphasis on local teams and athletes. From the preps to the pros, it’s essential reading for local sports fans.” Not a Sounder, Kraken, Mariner, or Seahawk, or their scholastic counterparts, could shoe up without landing in my inbox.
I am not signed up for Fan Fix. I have never signed up for Fan Fix. Far from “fixating,” I don’t give a flying puck about most of what it covers. The only sports events to grab me this season are Sue Bird’s retirement and Seattle’s new major-league cricket team. I learned about the latter in The Economist in December. The Times finally covered it, in much more depth, last week (April 2)..
I called the circulation department and explained the problem. The nice young man in Delhi or Manila told me to correct my newsletter settings. That’s not the problem, I explained. Finally he or someone I got on another call connected me to someone who said he would fix the problem. It didn’t get fixed. The Fan Fix carpet bombing continued.
It got worse. The news briefs I’d ordered stopped arriving, but Fan Fix continued. Enough I said, even more in sorrow than in irritation. I canceled my sub and blocked further payments.
Turns out that doesn’t mean living entirely without the Times. The Sunday paper continues landing in my walkway or bushes every week. I called once and told circulation, but now I’m not going to worry about it. Been there, done too much of that. It’s still nice to start the day with “Doonesbury.”
Fan Fix keeps filling my inbox, or rather the upstream spam bin at my email service, where I consigned firstname.lastname@example.org to the blacklist. That means even if the paper decides to send me news briefings again, I won’t see them. I’m done worrying about it.
Still, I can’t help puzzling over this organizational behavior. It’s hard to chalk it off to simple ineptitude. Does the Times figure sports news, which gets its own front page, is its best bid for survival? Is it trying to turn everyone into a sports fan? Will we soon have the Seattle Sporting Times?
Or is this a cry for help? Talk to the Times. Ask how it’s feeling. Maybe it will listen to you.