By Steve Klinger
We just canceled our longstanding subscription to the Las Cruces Sun-News. This had been a long time brewing, story and today we feel like liberated people.
A daily newspaper has been a long-engrained habit for my generation, but as much of the industry heads over the falls, it’s time for newspaper companies to do the only thing they have left (other than enhancing their online products), and that’s to try to salvage their remaining subscriber business by starting with a major mea culpa: They need to acknowledge they have been arrogant and complacent beyond all justification.
Yes, newspapers were pretty much the only game in town for certain types of news and advertising for about a century, but those days are about as dead as your 8-track tape player.
The service rep asked Kathy why we were canceling (a foolhardy question) and Kathy started to recite our litany of complaints:
1) The quality of the “journalism” has declined steadily, and it started from mediocrity
a) Lame, obvious, puff-piece “news” on the front page day after day, with recent lead stories ranging from Mother’s Day to Graduation to School’s Out, including a staged photo of LCPS students tossing their homework in the air in a recent edition
b) Ignoring or burying serious national and global news
c) Ignoring dissent such as anti-war protests, even at a time when hundreds of Las Cruces were marching through the streets
d) Constant rah-rah endorsement of military, veterans, local growth, the Spaceport, not only on news pages but in the self-serving propaganda pieces that masquerade as editorials
e) Non-existent copy editing, with so many typos, dropped stories and repeated stories that these “employees” would not have passed a high school English class back in the day
2) Utter lack of respect for readers and subscribers
a) Last week we got a Silver City edition delivered to our home in Las Cruces because apparently no one bothered to look at the front page before rolling it up and tossing it in our yard
b) The constantly shrinking page width, and the ridiculous 10-column classified and legal pages
c) This week, the point size of the type was reduced, without a word of explanation
d) Arrogant billing policies whereby our credit card has been automatically debited at six-month intervals without our consent (our own fault for not objecting immediately) so that we’re actually paying a higher rate for the “self-renewing” subscription we never ordered
e) Consolidation with the El Paso Times, which has resulted in pathetically early deadlines, a classified section made up mostly of El Paso ads, and a declining sense that the Sun-News is a local, Las Cruces publication. After shipping its press to Farmington and eliminating its Las Cruces copy desk, the latest move has been a near-complete style makeover that has left the paper looking just like the El Paso Times.
Kathy didn’t itemize quite all of the above, but she could have if the service rep had been interested in hearing more. We’re obviously not alone in rejecting this rag, as it’s clear that advertising has diminished along with news coverage, local classifieds and probably the number of subscriptions (we’d have to obtain an ABC audit to verify that, but I’m pretty confident).
The mainstream news media, and especially metro daily newspapers, are clearly an endangered species, thanks in part to the Internet; the trend in declining circulation and advertising has of course been exacerbated by the economy. But the years of inflated ad rates and an attitude that newspapers are above accountability and can put on a face of objectivity even as they further their own capitalistic agenda (promoting endless growth, militarism, insensitivity to social justice) has given us a media that does not serve the people. In hard times, the people will pull the plug, exactly as they are doing. And they won’t be plugging back in anytime soon.
It will be a shock to go cold turkey the first few days, but we’ll do more on-line reading, we’ll have less paper to deal with and our self-esteem will go up just from quitting that nasty, expensive Sun-News habit.
I believe in quality journalism. I’ve been influenced by it, I’ve taught it and I try to practice it. I believe there is still a place for printed newspapers, though mostly on the community level, where the local news coverage and commentary are less readily available by other means. Democracy needs the watchdog effort that newspapers and other media with integrity provide. You won’t find it in the Sun-News.