June 19, 2009

Another Reason the Press-Telegram is in Trouble

The Long Beach Press-Telegram is the major daily newspaper in Long Beach. Like most major newspapers, the Press-Telegram is struggling, although it seems to be struggling even more than most. It has greatly reduced its staff, including laying off many of its reporters. Plus, MediaNews Group, which owns the Press-Telegram, has announced that it plans to start charging for access to online content, to help its sagging finances.

Last year, shortly after we moved to the Long Beach area, a kid selling newspaper subscriptions as a fund-raiser knocked on our door, and we signed up for daily delivery. After several months (and at least one renewal), we decided to stop our subscription. I called the paper and spoke to a representative, who said she would stop our paper and send out a "final bill." A few days later, the bill arrived. It was around five dollars. On March 9, 2009, I paid the bill, and figured that was that.

Strangely, the paper kept coming, but only on Sundays. After a few weeks, I called the Press-Telegram and asked them to stop delivering the paper; the customer service representative said that our account had been closed, and that we shouldn't be receiving the paper, but that she'd make a note and inform the delivery person just in case.

But the Sunday papers kept coming.

I called again. This time, after about fifteen minutes of confusion, the customer service representative figured out that, for some reason, we were listed under two different account numbers, one of which was still active. I said I didn't know why there were two account numbers for the same address, and explained to her that I had cancelled my subscription and had paid my "final payment." She promised that she would take care of things.

But the Sunday papers kept coming.

A few weeks after that, I got a bill in the mail. This time, instead of calling, I wrote a note, and mailed it to the billing address, explaining that I had cancelled our subscription and had paid the "final payment," and therefore we should not be receiving any papers, nor getting billed for papers we did not want. I also mentioned in that note that I was told previously that there were two different account numbers, and that all accounts for my address should be closed.

But the Sunday papers kept coming.

Today, I received a new notice: "We are unable to continue your subscription to the Long Beach Press-Telegram due to non-payment. Your account is past due by $20.25. Please remit payment within ten days. If you have any questions, or if we did not meet your expectations, please contact customer service."

It doesn't seem right to make a second "final payment," especially since it's for papers that we did not want. I am tempted, though, to pay it just to be done with it all. (I'm also considering sending a copy of this blog post as a letter to the editor; surely the editor of a dying newspaper would want to know how his company's own customer service is upsetting its readers.)

One thing I do know: we won't be resubscribing, and we won't pay for any online content, should the Press-Telegram follow through on its plans to charge.

It's such a difficult time for newspapers. Now, more than ever, it is essential to build good relationships with customers and potential customers. In this, the Press-Telegram has failed.

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