I’ve subscribed to the New Bedford Standard-Times since I moved back to Massachusetts in 2012, through round after round of layoffs, as the paper has literally gotten smaller for the same price, but today I finally canceled after getting a letter telling me my subscription cost could go up 35% in the next year.
At issue are “premium editions,” the brainchild of profit-over-all corporate owners at GateHouse Media, a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group. At right is a “premium edition” Lens with 2014 campaign coverage. The content is fine, but it illustrates the scam: Shouldn’t campaign coverage come with my subscription price, not cost an extra $5? As Dan Kennedy has documented, they’ve already been the subject of a since-settled class-action lawsuit. But instead of backing down from “premium editions,” GateHouse is now explicitly forcing subscribers to choose: Agree to be charged for them, or cancel your subscription.
The letter begins “As your hometown paper,” although the return address is a PO box in Middletown, NY, 243 miles from New Bedford. It informs me I could be charged $5 each for up to 16 “premium editions” per year. That could be as much as $80, or a 35% premium on my $228.80 annual subscription charges, itself a hefty price to pay for Sunday-only delivery with online access.
Here’s the letter:
I wrote about the decline of the Standard-Times back in 2014 and it all holds true today:
TheStandard-Times has been hammered by round after round of layoffs with the latest hitting just two months ago. Nationwide, a Pew Research Center report shows newspaper editorial employment has fallen by a third in just the last 15 years.
But here’s the thing: The Standard-Times isn’t losing money – it’s profitable. It just wasn’t making enough money for its corporate owners, so the layoff ax swung. Remaining staffers are being asked to do the jobs of several people and subscribers are being asked to pay the same price for a product of lesser quality. No wonder CareerCast.com ranked newspaper reporter last out of 200 career fields, below dishwasher, oil rig worker and lumberjack.
A similar story is playing out at the nearby Providence Journal. As Dean Starkman has documented, the paper’s corporate owners have been laying off newsroom staff to fund huge executive bonuses. Its op-ed page has turned into a haven of climate science denial and I’ve heard the editorial page editor tells people that’s by design, that playing to the lowest common controversy makes for good reading.
Declining newspaper readership rates are often covered as proof of the declining literacy among the American public. But readers know when they’re being sold an inferior product.
There have been some glimmers of hope on the local newspaper scene with the Worcester Sun launching a print edition and the Boston Globe getting a shot in the arm from the local ownership of John Henry. But Henry’s profit-seeking has hurt the product as a new printing facility has been a total disaster and a switch to a new delivery service blew up in the Globe’s face. Elsewhere, the Attleboro-based Sun Chronicle has cut back to six days.
I still have my Sunday-only & online subscription to the Globe, but I hope GateHouse gives up on its “premium editions” so I can resume my subscription and get the product I want for a fair price.