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How I tried to save the Post-Gazette despite itself


Newspapers are dying -- a slow, painful death. You've probably read about it online.

Thanks largely to the Internet, print journalism is hemorrhaging revenue left and right. So publishers are desperate for subscribers, especially those with projected lifespans that can be measured in decades. At 26 years old, I'm a newspaper publisher's wet dream.  

Like most of my under-30 peers, I've spent years reading the news online. But as someone who works in the newspaper industry, I have done so with an increasingly guilty conscience. 

So finally, a few months ago, I decided to do my part to lend print journalism a helping hand: I subscribed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Or at least I tried. 

In January, I placed an order online for a six-month subscription. A few days after subscribing, I hadn't yet received a paper, so I called the P-G's customer-service line to ask when I could expect one. 

You should have received it by now, I was told. No problem, though, the representative assured me: You'll get one tomorrow.

I didn't. So I called customer service again. And again, I was assured that I'd get a paper the next day. 

Still no paper. That morning -- it was a Saturday -- I called customer service once more. If I didn't get Saturday's paper within two hours, I told the customer-service representative, I'd cancel my subscription. The paper will be there, she assured me. 

It wasn't. So I called again, trying to understand. After all, I said, I live in Greenfield, not Cranberry. And it's not like anyone had to go out of his way to get me one: I'd seen the P-G delivered to neighbors on my street.

(During one phone call, in fact, a customer service asked, "Are you sure your neighbors aren't taking your paper?")

Getting nowhere, I asked to speak to a manager. None was available, I was told. So I canceled my subscription.

It took a few more days before I noticed that my account had not been reimbursed. That required another phone call, and more apologies. My short-lived relationship with the P-G came to an end. 

Until I received a phone call in mid-July. It was a salesman who said the paper wanted me "back." I told him about my previous horror story, but he assured me that all of the delivery problems had been fixed. 

He also offered me a discount. Like most Americans, I like a good deal, and I figured I'd give the P-G another chance. But I asked for a guarantee that I would actually receive my paper this time. No worries, he assured me: You'll get your first paper in three to five days. 

Four days later, I still hadn't received a newspaper. I called customer- service again. I was told that I'd been misinformed about the delivery date of my first paper. It would take seven to 10 days from the time I subscribed, not three to five. 

"I'm sorry you received false information," the rep told me. I replied, dejectedly, that I had absolutely no expectation that I would receive a paper the next week. 

I was right. 

By Monday, a week after I subscribed, I called customer service again. My subscription, as it turned out, hadn't yet registered in the P-G's system. I'd been offered the paper through a third-party representative, I was told, and it takes time before their sales are registered by the paper itself. But don't worry, he assured me, you'll be receiving your paper by Aug. 1 -- 14 days after I subscribed. 

If these customer service reps were reporters, I thought, they'd be running lots of corrections.

Before ending the call, I asked the customer-service representative to have a manager call me back. He said he would. 

No one ever called, though I finally received my first newspaper on Aug. 1. It was a relief: I was starting to worry that by the time my delivery got started, the print edition would be extinct.

 Over the years, newspapers have wrung their hands about how to report the news in a digital age. But maybe the newsroom isn't the only thing they need to modernize.


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