Six months ago I cancelled our daily delivery of the Great Falls Tribune. I’d been reading the Trib all my life and I’ve been the subject and author of a few stories over the years. I’m writing because, as a subscriber who has been missing for six months and an advertiser that’s been missing for three years, TheTribune never once noticed I was gone. I understand it’s not totally the newspaper’s fault. The industry is suffering, the economy is lousy, technology is in transition, the home page on my computer is an Internet daily. It used to take me a half hour every morning to read the paper, then it took fifteen minutes, not long after that, ten. A dropped sentence at the bottom of a column became more common, catching a grammatical error used to be challenging; it became embarrassing.
The slow decline of the paper is akin to watching a loved one suffer. I remember my father losing all that weight before he passed away. The paper, though occasionally bloated with ads, is starved for content that resonates with me. In an odd parallel, I began to see the same person dying two or three times on the obituary page (Printing errors? Editorial issues? Paddles?) Sometimes in a senior moment of my own, I’d think “Do I know that guy? His name is familiar.”Then I’d realize I read the same obituary a day or two before. Instead of opening the paper, I began to check headlines and obituaries online. I’m not even conscious of the sneaky Netflix ad anymore, and I understand the obituary links don’t raise the dead, but they do raise a little revenue for the Tribune.
As the Tribune’s content became less relevant, my internal equation began to weigh in favor of saving trees. I began to feel guilty, even knowing that newspapers use a high percentage of recycled waste. The Sunday New York Times:worth the trees. The Tuesday Great Falls Tribune: well, maybe not. I have friends and acquaintances who work for newspapers. They are all more talented and experienced than I am: we knew this day would come, but I didn’t realize how much the Tribune…didn’t care.
My husband’s team loyalties and investment strategies are broad. The Tribune’s sports and financial sections are weak (unless you cheer for Dutton or the Bison). Last summer I watched my man read an editorial page, shake the paper and then shake his head. “Why do we get the paper?” he asked sadly. To cancel, I dialed a toll-free phone number and spoke to a stranger. She never asked why, didn’t offer us a Sunday-only delivery (I suggested it), and never mentioned the Tribune online. It’s not just the content—it’s the delivery.
Over the years we’ve hoped the neighbors didn’t notice us tiptoeing from our covered porch to the sidewalk to retrieve a snowy or soggy paper ten feet from our door, and there have been times (understandably) when news was literally scattered to the wind. Sometimes the Trib would be hidden totally under our grimy sisal doormat, or it would arrive too late for early risers. Occasionally the Tribune would not arrive at all, and we’d have to call Gannett instead of calling our friends a few blocks away. “Please press TWO…”
As a former advertiser, I’ve wondered why, after years of buying big ads, when my latest ad rep quit, no one bothered to call. I liked my old rep. Whenever I asked him how he was, he’d reply, “Fine as frog’s hair.” Ironically, as far as I know, there’s no hair on frogs. In the last thirty months or so, I’ve learned my demographic isn’t reading the paper anyway. As a jeweler, most of my locals are young engaged couples who get their news online. Precious metals investors seem to find me, and after 17 years in business, referral is booming. Ironically, the slower economy has created more comparison shoppers, which is great for my business model.
Out of continuity, fear of lost revenue, and loyalty to the ‘frog’s hair fellow’, I’d have spent thousands with the Trib. Now it’s just too late. I log on to the free online paper, get the Sunday edition and I read the rest at the Peak. I hit the gym often, I don’t miss much. It takes five to ten minutes most days, and I never wrest a copy from anyone under fifty. At forums about the future of media, no one under 35 is wringing his hands: these fellows are too busy downloading, uploading and texting. The guys at Gannett have one fist fumbling with digital media, while the other looks like it’s throwing in the towel on the Great Falls Tribune.