I live in the Chicago area, but my wife and I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. To me, it’s the second-best newspaper in the country, trailing only the Wall Street Journal. A Sunday without the Times–and particularly without their crossword puzzle–is like a Sunday without….well, without CBS Sunday Morning. It just isn’t Sunday!
So when my Sunday Times didn’t arrive last week, I immediately called their toll-free number to alert them to this impending catastrophe. I was assured by the automated voice at the other end of the line that our paper would be delivered by 9:30 that morning. Whew–Catastrophe averted! Or so I thought. When the paper had yet to arrive at 10:30, I called again, but this time the previously cooperative recorded voice informed me that I was out of luck: they would not be able to deliver the paper to me. I left a “firm” (“firm” being a euphemism for “irate”) voicemail message, naively hoping I would get a return phone call the following day. When that didn’t happen, I called again, and eventually succeeded in reaching a live body. The woman I spoke to was quite cordial and said she would send me a copy of the Sunday paper by second-class mail. Finally, I thought; somebody there understands the concept of customer service! The only downside to my conversation was that it took her about 15 minutes to take care of my paperwork. That should have been a clue that this heart-wrenching story was not to have a happy ending.
The good news: the paper did get delivered. The bad news: it didn’t arrive until Saturday. The worse news: we were sent two copies of the front-half of the paper, and no copies of the other half–the half that would have included my crossword puzzle. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, the humanity!!!
It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in huge and irreversible trouble. While there are many reasons for this, one could argue that the biggest reason is that newspaper publishers simply lost touch with their readers’ needs, habits and desires. (Surely anyone who has witnessed the Chicago Tribune’s utter disregard for its readers under the insensitive and inept ownership of Sam Zell can second that motion.) In an age where I can get a phone call from Apple’s customer service team within five seconds of submitting a request for service on their website, the kind of customer service exhibited by the New York Times is as antiquated and useless as a Gutenberg printing press.
Loyal customers are hard to come by in any business, and especially in the newspaper business. Failing to make loyal customers feel appreciated is a sure and sad sign of a company whose best days are behind it. That’s clearly the case with most newspapers, and I fear it’s also the case with the New York Times.
I’m not sure that qualifies as news, but I at least hope that it’s fit to print.