One of my favorite media stories of the week begins this way:
I called the Duluth News Tribune a couple of weeks ago to ask if I could give them some money. They said no.
Chris Julin is like many of us: he loves the news but doesn’t need it in paper form anymore. Still, the UMD journalism instructor knows newsgathering isn’t free. Since the News Tribune, incredibly, doesn’t offer an e-subscription like the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press, Julin’s only option was to voluntarily write a check for the free web site.
Next stop: hilarity.
“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.
I want you to give the Perfect Duluth Day blog some click love, so I won’t reprint the rest except to say that the paper (owned by Forum Communications, which has laid off folks due to sales declines) hasn’t cashed his check. And I should note that check is for the full $205.40 yearly subscription price. Since the News Tribune wouldn’t have to pay printing or delivery costs for that money, Julin would instantly become one of their more profitable subscribers.
But wait! There’s more! Julin sent me this update Friday morning:
Here’s an interesting twist in the story. Yesterday, I got a voicemail from Rob Karwath, the DNT’s executive editor. He’s running a Sunday column about this matter. Apparently the paper got another letter and a check within days of the one I sent. I don’t know if it happened independently or if it was inspired by my blog post or maybe even preceded my letter. I don’t know any of the details.
Karwath got back to me quickly, but he’s banging out his piece so I’ll have to give you an update later today. Like most papers, the News Tribune has gotten skinnier, and I don’t want to pretend a few hardcore readers voluntarily ponying up will save things. But for heaven’s sake, gang, at least find a way to take the free money!