Ending my one remaining newspaper dependency

Warning: wandering blog entry. Those looking for a carefully structured persuasion attempt, well, that’s why this doesn’t cost the reader any money.

A couple of days ago, I deleted the RSS feed that used to give me Adam Jude’s Washington Husky football coverage via the Seattle Times, Seattle’s surviving daily mainstream paper. My link had shifted to collecting some other aggregation of Times headlines, it needed fixing, and figuring out the new RSS bookmark was more effort than their coverage was worth.

Since I do not actually buy a newspaper, and since I do my level best to block ads, refuse cookies, nerf scripts, and otherwise sidestep every effort the news media make to eke some benefit from my freeloading, one might fairly level some accusations at me:

  • I’m a freeloader.
  • I am contributing to the death of the hometown newspaper concept.
  • I’m probably in violation of their terms of service.

Even if all of those are just, I don’t care. Because:

Newspapers seem to get the vast majority of their content from wire services anyway. Most of it is the same words one could read anywhere. At no time do I ask them to cover anything. They choose what to cover, and are quite immune to any desires or non-desires on my part. I don’t think that becoming a paying customer would change that much. My business just isn’t that big a deal for them to lose, if they were to gain it to start with.

The newspaper is a corporation of some sort, thus it must do or be something exceptional to qualify for any sympathy from me. In fact, Jude’s efforts at covering Husky football are a major step downward from his predecessor Bob Condotta, one of the hardest working sportswriters in the business. I’m not sure if this speaks more to Jude’s work ethic or to the paper’s spreading his available hours thinner, but I’m not required to care. I care about reading the news concerning Husky football, and the hometown paper is no longer the best source. It might not be the third best. It was once the very best, no contest. If Condotta were still covering the Dawgs, I wouldn’t be so hasty.

That’s a business decision by the paper. My choice is also a business decision: the coverage wasn’t worth paying for before, and now it’s not worth the effort to avoid paying for. If they don’t want people to make choices on how they read the material, the executives are welcome to take down the website. I certainly have no right to object. No one forces them at bayonet point to post anything.

My issue is that the expectation of empathy seems to go only one way: from everyone to the consumer. I hate that in society:

“Give to me/do for me/let me get away with/make allowances for me.”

“And in return, you will what?”

“Well…er…I’ll do the work I am paid to do.”

“Those are the key words: you get paid to do that. You are not owed more. If you want more compensation, that’s between you and your employer.”

It gets old, this business of people and institutions asking me to care about their problems without proposing to care about mine. “Give to me” is getting old. I like reciprocity. I care about my neighbors’ feelings because they care about mine. I care about letting people merge on the highway because I am often allowed to merge, and it feels like participation in a practice of cordial kindness. I care about my clients because I respect them, and because they pay me to offer them my very best. I’m not entitled to ask for extras from them. I quote a price, I am or will be paid, and that is all the compensation I have any right to request. Sure, it’s nice to get a complimentary signed copy of the finished book, but they aren’t obligated, and I have no right to guilt them about it. If it was that important to me, I should have negotiated it as part of my compensation. It’s nice to be print-credited, but the same logic applies. They aren’t under any obligation to do that unless we negotiate it. Of course, if I have done my work well, I won’t have to request it of them. That is purely on me, to leave them feeling warmly toward me and that they received better value than they anticipated. Good service leaves a client feeling expansive and generous-spirited. And it’s not up to the client to tell me how to do that. I’m presenting myself as the knowledge source. It’s up to me to figure out how to give the best service that is in my power.

I don’t have any evidence that the print news media see it that way, though I am sure there are exceptions.

I do not regard any lengthy, fine-print Terms of Service as morally binding. Want me to regard them as morally binding? Stop making them so long that no one will read them. Stop making the print so fine that they are burdensome to read. Start making them concise and straightforward. Stop sneaking really unpalatable clauses in around page four. Do it in 200 plain English words. Surely you have an editor around there someplace, what with being a newspaper and all.

I find it amazing that people have acquiesced to the statement ‘use of this site constitutes acceptance of these terms.’ It may hold up in court, because that works out well for lawyers (the more complex that legal matters are made, the more often the citizen requires a paid escort to navigate them), but since there’s no enforcement to speak of, I don’t care. If you don’t want me to look at it, don’t post it online. I won’t plagiarize you, of course, because that is against my own ethics, but neither will I just endorse that the site owner has the right to put up ten pages of legalese and consider me morally obligated to respect it. I don’t. If the site owner wants to put it behind a pay wall, fine. Then I have another business decision to make, just as they made theirs.

A good example is the New York Times. Most papers’ websites at least try to make you take cookies, or let all their scripts run. Some won’t work unless you take the cookies. The NYT, which seems to think it’s special, requires a login. Fine. Their prerogative. If I can circumvent that, I will. I’m sure their TOS prohibit that, somewhere deep in the duodenal section, and I am sure that I simply don’t care. If I can’t, that’s fine too. They aren’t that special to me.

Perhaps the biggest reason to give up on the hometown paper’s coverage of my alma mater, though, is that its coverage isn’t as good as what the amateurs are providing. All that cachet, all those resources, and still the amateurs are clobbering them. And I mean clobbering, too. The amateur coverage is prompter, more complete, more interesting, and at least as dependable. It has its homerist moments, but it has always been the consumer’s duty to read critically. Just because hardly anyone seems to bother doing so lately doesn’t relieve each of us of the duty.

What could the newspaper industry have done to avoid this decline? I don’t have the answer. They’re the media professionals, not me. But I can tell them that guilt trips and worsening coverage definitely aren’t the way to go. Is it too bad? Yeah, but it’s not as if this is bucking the trend. Our mainstream TV news is a sad joke. The main grownup world news source available to me is a channel out of Qatar, for gods’ sakes, or one out of the UK.

Of course, if I disable features, I can’t be annoyed with a site for not working as designed. So I’m not. But that’s not what happened here. The Times simply changed its RSS feeds, and it wasn’t worth the effort to fix them.

So I probably won’t be checking out the Times‘ Husky football coverage this season much. And that’s all right.

We’re strapping in for a rough season anyway, it seems. I have a feeling that reading some of the coverage will feel self-laceratory. But I’m a college football fan, and hope springs long-lived if not eternal, and I admit it: I can’t wait for the opening kickoff.

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