Customer (dis)service.

07.20.18_ Commercial Appeal Newspaper 478 ©FochtA.JPG

It only took five minutes to end a nearly 30-year relationship.

This week, I canceled my subscription to the local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, which I have read since I arrived in Memphis in 1989 and for which I worked for a (mostly happy) 15 years.

(Well, it only took five minutes if you don’t count the 40 minutes I waited for the Gannett customer service rep to call me back. Where was he? Iowa? Mumbai? I thought about getting my reporter on and asking him a million questions, but I was too sad.)

I have long felt like a chump for continuing to pay nearly $50 a month for a product put together by a company that so clearly doesn’t care one bit for me or the news that shapes my city. I have already read most of the stories I care about by the time they reach print, sometimes as many as two (!) days later. A new local daily online journalism source is coming in a few weeks, and I’m already in the habit of reading news online throughout the day. It was time.

But I am not one of the cranky chorus of disappointed Memphians who points out every stupid headline and ignorant geographic reference. I don’t relish how often I can’t find even one thoroughly reported story in a day’s paper or I see a column that went on too long that I know was used mostly to fill a space. I will never say, with a sneer, “Who’s left over there, anyway?”

The answer is that there are at least 27 hardworking journalists left in The CA newsroom (there were nearly 200 when I joined the paper in 1994), and they are doing the best they can. David Waters, John Beifuss, Linda Moore, Ron Maxey – these friends and former co-workers have adapted over and over to the ridiculous corporate imperative to do more with less. In journalism, that’s simply not possible.

My heart aches when I think of the stories that aren’t getting done – at all – in Memphis right now. Not just the slow-on-the-uptake local reporting about the MPD’s surveillance of activists. What happened to all of those worrisome stories circulating on social media about people who weren’t able to vote the ballot they wanted to in the August 2 election? Are there pedophile priests in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis hiding the way they were for decades in Pennsylvania?

And those are just a couple of the stories I can mention. Like all journalists, I hear things every day that should be investigated by a competent reporter with editorial support that doesn’t depend on preserving the status quo. Some of those stories would turn out to be nothing. But some would change our city for the better, even if they made people mad on the way.

This fascinating CityLab story from May even shows the economic consequences of a city losing a newspaper. "You can actually see the financial consequences that have to be borne by local citizens as a result of newspaper closures," say the researchers. 

We're not quite there, but losing our watchdogs isn't good for anyone, really. To reiterate, journalists are not the enemy. 

As my friend, the wonderful photojournalist Karen Pulfer Focht, put it, “It was never just a job for me. Nor you. It was a calling to most everyone in that newsroom.” Karen took the sad photo, above, not long after the CA building sold in April.

To be clear, I will still read The CA digitally, for a fraction of the cost of getting a dead-tree paper delivered to my doorstep every morning. But local news will never be the same for me.