By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Much has been written about the demise of local newspapers in America. Thousands vanished
as people flocked to the Internet for their information (or disinformation as is often the case). Print editions once served to keep us informed about important matters in our own communities. Now, ensnared in the World Wide Web, we become fixated on events in far-off places, many of little or no consequence but served up in ways that rile us.
Be that as dismay, I come to you with a gripe about another result of this sad development: the end of one of life’s small and comforting pleasures.
My wife and I are among a class of fossilized citizens who still enjoys reading an actual paper with our morning coffee. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not dour Luddites. We like websites and spend plenty of time on them. But leisurely reading on a screen just isn’t as pleasurable as sitting on a comfortable sofa or easy chair and holding a newspaper, magazine or book. I don’t know why. It just isn’t.
Anyway, having a newspaper delivered to one’s home has become a quaint relic of a bygone time. I fondly recall pedaling my ass, er, riding my bike around my hometown delivering Newsday (“the Long Island Newspaper”) during my formative years. Now “paperboys” drive cars and if the ones we’ve had lately are any indication, they are far less reliable, even in good weather.
Spotty delivery service exacerbated our dissatisfaction with a once-great local product. For 21 years, we subscribed to the Poughkeepsie Journal, New York’s oldest newspaper (founded in 1785), but only on Sunday. I wrote columns — family humor, commuting, social-political screeds — so that gave us at least one reason to subscribe. But the paper itself was steadily shrinking, its once-robust multiple sections that were full of lengthy features and news about the Mid-Hudson Valley were down to about two-to-four pages apiece after undergoing an ownership change that delocalized its management while gutting its editorial staff here. (The brain trust now resides about 60 miles south, in Westchester.)
In a sign of great irony, the main section became padded by pages of obituaries in extra-large, space-filling print. My wife enjoyed reading them for the often detailed stories about the deceased while I contented myself with knowing that if I wasn’t in there, I was good for another week. (It’s good to stay informed.)
But the price of the subscription kept rising while delivery on any given Sunday became a crapshoot. Where once I could report a delivery issue to the circulation department in the paper’s Poughkeepsie headquarters and be given prompt, attentive service, I now had to call God-knows-where and deal with a customer disservice representative who inevitably expressed regret at our not receiving the paper but did little else.
“Please know you can get the paper for free online,” the rep inevitably said.
“If we wanted to get the paper online, why would we pay to have it delivered?” I inevitably asked. I also inevitably had to ask to be credited for the missed delivery.
“OK, we have credited your account 75 cents,” I would be told.
“Seventy-five cents! The subscription is $21 for the month! Divided by four weeks I should be getting at least $5 back!”
After a moment or two of uneasy silence and perhaps a hem or haw, I’d be told, “Please know we will get the paper to you tomorrow.”
“So we still have to pay for a day-old paper?”
After more back-and-forth, I was usually able to secure a “We will credit your account accordingly.” But the promised paper only occasionally arrived.
It was this kind of dedicated insult-to-injury service that primed us to cancel the subscription when the paper canceled my own column several weeks ago. Left longing for our Sunday coffee companion, preferably a local one, we signed on with the Daily Freeman out of Kingston, a 151-year old publication that, while emaciated, still retains old some school features like a Letters to the Editor page (something older readers of my column often told me they missed).
Of course, our delivery issues began immediately, even with a new service provider. Three weeks in, we still hadn’t received our first issue.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the somewhat befuddled customer disservice rep said each time I called. “I will be sure to work on your account.”
“How about you work on the delivery service?” I asked. “You can work on the account all you want. Will that get the paper here?”
“We will be sure to have it to you next Sunday,” I was promised … twice.
“Let us pray,” I replied each time, adding a spiritual note of hope to the proceedings.
Hallelujah, the dam finally broke and in the middle of last week we received a stack of day-old (or more) papers. What’s more, deliveries have been arriving every day since. (I do expect a bill for them any day now as our subscription is Sunday-only.)
All I can say is if the intent of modern newspaper management is to drive people away from print and onto their websites, the folks where I live are doing a grand job with the first half of the equation. It’s a shame. The passing of the paper is like losing a cozy old friend who will be truly missed when they are gone for good.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.