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Saturday, August 27, 2005

The worst of Times

For the better part of 20 years, I have been a subscriber to The New York Times. Have it delivered, every day. I'm too busy for the whole thing -- I leaf through most of it every other day. Once a quarter or so I'll read a whole Saturday edition cover to cover, which is very satisfying. There are some truly wonderful discoveries to be made on those pages. When I'm through with the paper, about once a week I'll toss it to my next-door neighbor, an ex-New Yorker, who enjoys even day-old coverage.

It ain't cheap. It runs about $10 a week, and so when the quarterly bill comes, I write a check in the $130 range. Until a few months ago, I did it gladly.

But now my long romance with the daily Times is coming to an end. Why? Disagreement with the paper's editorial policies? A desire to switch all my news gathering to the internet? Loss of interest in the wide spectrum of events and trends that the paper chronicles?

Nope. Believe it or not, I'm quitting the Times over labels.

Several months ago, the trademark blue plastic bag in which the Times is delivered (typically double-bagged to protect against Oregon rain) started showing up with a label on it. A paper label, with my name and address on it. A label that's impossible to remove without ripping the bag.

For me, it's just another annoying security and recycling issue that I can do without. Having had my identity stolen once, I don't discard anything with my name on it without first shredding the item or obliterating my name and address. You can't shred a plastic bag in my shredder, so this means a daily trip to the drawer where the black marker is kept, to get the marker to blacken out my name and address.

Then where? The Times bag, which once was easily recycled at any number of Portland locations, can't be recycled with the label on it. And so it's got to go in the landfill, or be kept in a separate pile from our other plastic bags for kitty litter duty. As a religious recycler, I've already got about six or eight different piles going, and starting yet another one is not an option, for mental health reasons if nothing else.

So what is a customer supposed to do? I've called 800-NYTIMES on at least five occasions to complain about this. The folks who answer the phone (who have an accent, but it's not New York) assure me that I can have the labels omitted from my copies of the Times. The delivery person gets the message briefly, at least after some of the calls, but within a few days the labels are always back.

The last time I called, I specifically said I would cancel my subscription if the labels didn't stop. And today, I received not only today's paper with a label on it, but also yesterday's paper, delivered a day late, with a label on it.

The end. I'll pick up The Times at Starbucks once in a while, and I'm sure I'll leaf through the copy that's delivered every day to my workplace. But after a nice long run, my home subscription is history.

Just another one for my ever-expanding Grouchy Old Coot files, I guess.

Comments (19)

Can't you just rip the label off, which would rip the bag, but then recycle the bag and dispose of the label (after blacking it out or cutting it up)?

Though, I suspect you had been leaning toward cancelling the Times and this was just the last straw. Otherwise, if it really was just the label that caused you to cancel the paper, then this goes in the Grouchy Old Coot files Hall of Fame.

Can't you just rip the label off, which would rip the bag, but then recycle the bag and dispose of the label (after blacking it out or cutting it up)?

Every day for the rest of my life? Nuh-uh.

Personally, I am surprised that you don't just read The Times online - the only drawback is no puzzle (unless you pay) - otherwise you skip the ads and the headlines are sent to your email daily - ALL FOR FREE! No recycling necessary and no labels!!!

I'm an old newspaper reporter, and I love the look, feel and portability of the dead tree. But with the office copy and the occasional Starbucks purchase (are there any Starbucks around here?), supplemented with the 'net version, I'm done with the bags, the labels, and the $520-a-year subscription.

Not to mention less newsprint to dispose of!

Your concerns about identity theft may be well founded, but shredding labels isn't really buying you any protection. You have an unusual name and you live in a small town, so anybody who's been to your blog and knows how to do a web search can get your full name, address, phone number, place of employment, picture, and all the information they could want about your residence in about five minutes.

I don't know what happens to those plastic bags at the recycling depot, but I'd be surprised if they don't end up in a landfill anyhow, not that that's really going to hasten the end of Western Civilization.

But whatever floats your boat dude, I'm not complaining about Paul Krugman's employer losing a customer. Several others must feel as you do, because NYT subscriber numbers are falling faster than Bush's approval ratings.

...because NYT subscriber numbers are falling faster than Bush's approval ratings.

Nah...nothing's that fast.

Richard, or should I call you "dude"? The shredding's not about the smart crooks. Of course they can find out whatever they want. I'm thinking about the dumber ones, who root through people's garbage looking for goodies.

There was just a scandal in town about a "recycler" who was shipping "recyclables" to a landfill. Didn't sit well with the city, which holds all the cards on that operator's financial future. I'm sure it happens, but I try to get into a spirit of stewardship toward the earth, even if it's being thwarted by lying liars.

I appreciate your sensitivity to Spaceship Earth and her many needs, but I would submit that she's much more upset about your newsprint consumption than the little plastic bags. All consumption of this sort uses energy, and oftentimes the recycling takes more than virgin products.

The clue on low-density polyethylene is the refusal of the City's recycling program to touch it.

Anyway, I'm just here to share information and made the planet a happier place, so don't let me bring you down.

Every day for the rest of my life? Nuh-uh.

Yeah, I see your point. (And just teasing about the Hall of Fame.)

The Times must neglect Mrs. Laquedem and me -- we've never found a label on our blue bags. Perhaps some distributors put labels on and others don't?

I think that's right. I'm sure my delivery person has got a label-making program, and finds this a convenience for him or her. But it's an inconvenience for me, and I am the customer.

Jack, I was an avid Times buyer for over 30 years, half of that by paid subscription.

No more. I cancelled last December, on the solstice. Have not even had interest in an issue from Starbucks.

My problem? Their political propaganda. Completely nine-eleven-op (n.e.o.) -con disinformation spoon-fed.

Yes there are rich treasures in the other places, other words in each issue. But it got played to be: 'here, eat the poison now that we sugar-coated it.'

I have become friendly and correspond with many people who work at the Times; from them I get a sense of an exodus among them. No names.

The Bill Keller move seemed to be the breaking point.

Yeah, and the outsourcing was ugly. Like them putting a label you can't remove on the blue wrapper ... maybe you could have a radio-freq chip embedded in your forearm that the delivery boy could read with a scanner from the curb, to know which driveway to leave a paper ...

It surprised me a little that I have had no regret and haven't had the least pang to 'pick up a copy,' even free copies. Besides, the crossword was losing its challenge, (sorry Will Shortz, who I like -- it's over, go on, get another job).

Jack, I hope it is as easy for you to quit as it was for me.

And leaving four hundred bucks a year in my purse ain't hay ...

I am an avid recycler as well. I would do the same thing in your situation. Amazing that you called as many times as you did to have them remove the sticker, and they still keep bringing it back! Unbelievable.

I *tried* to subscribe to the NY Times - really I did. I signed up for one of their "50% off for eight weeks" promotions, just for the Sunday paper. Week after week after week no paper appeared, I would call every Sunday AM and report a missing paper and get a credit on the bill - and finally after the eighth consecutive missed paper (out of eight), I called and said I would not renew. Less than FIVE minutes later, I got a call from the local Beaverton distributor, saying he could never find my apartment and would I please please take another subscription to the paper? I said no, and told him I found him rather lazy as the only time he had bothered to call me was when I was cancelling the subscription - I guess trying to find me eight weeks in a row wasn't enough of a hint to contact me and find out where I lived.

Anyhow, half of what the NYT times prints ends up in the Oregonian a few days later, so I'm not missing that much NYT. I will be saddened when NYT starts charging for access to their editorial comment on their web site, which is scheduled to begin next month.

Does anyone remember the single edition spoof "Not the New York Times" circa 1978?
Re: The Times; it does seem like it has taken on this haughty propagandistic air in recent years. And this is reflected in other papers-like the Oregonian. But 9 out of 10 cats still prefer the Times to the Oregonian under their litter boxes.

...because NYT subscriber numbers are falling faster than Bush's approval ratings.

Not so fastů

Circulation at the nation's largest daily newspapers indeed has declined, almost 2 percent alone in the six months that ended March 31, according to the Newspaper Association of America. About one-third of U.S. newspapers reported gains in circulation. As the Washington Post reported at the time:

Among those adding subscribers was the New York Times, which reported weekday circulation of 1,136,433 and Sunday circulation of 1,680,582. Its weekday circulation is up 0.2 percent from the same period last year.

No comment on the president's ratings.

My solution to this annoyance - I use my NYT bags to pick up my dog's emissions while out on our walks. I use the "put the bag over your hand, pick up the poop, and turn it inside out" trick. I'm guessing that no identity thief is going to be desperate enough for my info to open up that bag of dog dung. So far, so good.

But, Jack, how will you wrap your fish?
All seriousness aside, don't forget that, next month, NYT will start to charge for the good stuff on line.

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