The Fallen Star

The_Kansas_City_Star_front_page[1] Disclaimer: I write for a newspaper. It is the Platte County Landmark. It is a relatively small, locally owned newspaper that is a fun read. My opinions in this column are my own and do not represent the views of the Platte County Landmark. (Although they probably mirror them…)

Much hand-wringing has been done about the “fall of newspapers” and how that is affecting the world. These are big topics. These are important topics.  Corporate-owned newspapers are at the root of this discussion because of how they affect the men and women who write the stories and print the papers.

This is my story of how I cancelled my subscription to The Kansas City Star.

Let me first off say how proud I was to subscribe to the Star. While I rarely read it in tactile print form, I still read the excellent iPad app every morning whilst taking a shit. Just as our ancestors foretold.  But I read it. I consumed it – because I thought that made me a better citizen and member of the community.  A vibrant newspaper is important to a community – so I wanted to support it.

That support, however, was a one-way street.

About six months ago, I was shopping at the grocery store and noticed a sad old man with a stack of newspapers. He was selling subscriptions and we had not subscribed for a year or so as part of a regular financial purge.  Well, the man looked so sad, and he was giving away umbrellas. And it was raining. So I signed up.  I paid the man right there on the spot. Only $44 for a 6 month subscription. What a deal. But I only wanted the Sunday paper delivered. Nope. “We will give you Thursday through Sunday. Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be delivered free of charge.”

Well, I didn’t want a paper those days but if that was the only option, oh well.  So I signed up and took my Sunday paper right there on the spot. Ironically, the Sunday paper contains the Peanuts cartoon where Lucy continually puts the football down for Charlie Brown only to yank it away time and time again.

The next Monday, I walked out to the driveway and noticed a small pamphlet sized newspaper on my driveway.  Well, that was the Star.  Of course, I didn’t subscribe to Monday’s paper, but I gathered it up and threw it straight in the recycle bin.  And I did that every morning for the next six months. I only wanted the Sunday paper and read the rest online. Every day. Scoop up the paper. Put it in the recycle bin.

I did call them once only to be told that they were being provided “free of charge.” My Dad didn’t raise a boy to turn down something free, so I kept scooping them up and putting them in the recycle bin.

When my six month subscription had expired, my credit card had expired as well.  So I got a phone call. During a meeting. They were asking for a renewal and I said to call me back.  The renewal rate had jumped to $112 over 120% increase over the introductory rate.

They called back. Again. and Again. Pestering me for weeks.  Every time I seemed to be in the middle of something and most times I’d simply deny the call.

This went on for over a month – but my subscription never stopped. I assumed at some point it would just fade away if I kept ditching their calls. That’s classic Avoidance 101. But every morning I scooped up the paper and put it right in the recycle bin.  Oh, I kept the Sunday ones, clipping a few coupons here and there – but never enough to justify over $100 for a subscription.

And then, this morning, I was paying some bills and I actually had a little money left over. So I pulled up my KC Star bill.

And here’s where the fun begins.  First off, I notice that the subscription dates back to August – 3 months I had been receiving the paper without paying for it. They were charging me for something I did not want. Whatever.

2013-11-08 10.03.10My goal was to pay for a year. That price was over $260.  Wow. Quite a difference over $44 like my first payment was. Whatever. Civic pride. Journalism. Sam Mellinger. I want to help the community.

  So I looked for a website. I really distrust giving my credit card number to a human being over the phone. I’d rather the NSA only have it.  So I looked for a website to pay.  Not on the bill. So I went to the Star’s website to look for a place to pay. Nope. Strike two.  I finally did a google search for “Pay my KC Star bill” – This sent me to another website where I was prompted for a username and password.  I used my Star+ (their online “Pay Wall” account) and it said Access Denied.  Strike three.

Well, damn. I’ll just call them since they’ve been so patient.  So I called back the number that has been dialing me twice a day for two months.  Nope. Busy signal. Yeah. An actual busy signal.  How retro.

So, I look for a number on the bill and I call that.  I get the typical “Thanks for calling… press 1… blah, blah.”  So I press something to pay my bill. And I’m greeted with the following recording… “You have reached the payment center for the Kansas City Star. Due to high call volume, your wait times may be longer than expected.”  It’s 9:21 on a Friday morning.  How many damn people are calling the Star to pay their bill on a Friday morning?

So.. I took to Twitter and fired off a few salvos… and then I waited… on hold… hold music… TWENTY ONE MINUTES I waited on hold.

Finally, a woman named “Susan” picked up. (Hint: Susan was not her real name.) And after telling her I would like to pay my bill, she responded, “You will have to call back Monday. Our system is not process payment. [SIC] Call back Monday.”

Are you fucking kidding me? System not process payment? Call back Monday?

THIS. This is what’s wrong with newspapers. Not the content. Not the delivery. Not the awkward purgatory they are in with their battle against bloggers and online sources. Their problem is that their system not process payment. The system. It not process payment.

So… in summary…

  • Sending me papers when I’m not subscribed
  • Charging me for papers that I haven’t subscribed do
  • Pestering me with phone calls
  • When I do go to pay my bill, nowhere to pay it online
  • When I call back to give someone my money willingly, system not process payment

So… you know what I did? I went to BestBuy.com and I preordered an Xbox One with my KC Star subscription money. Know how long that took? FOUR MINUTES.

Goodbye Kansas City Star. You’ve fallen too far for me.

Oh… but I did make one more investment… this one cost only $.47.

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