Recently, I’ve been meaning to write a post about how sad I was to have dropped my subscription to The Boston Globe.
I started the subscription in the easiest possible way. When we were in Boston last summer, I wanted access to local news, particularly to what the Red Sox were doing, since we were going to go see them play the Yankees (and beat them!) one night while we were there.
When the algorithm saw that I was perusing the Globe‘s website, it made me an offer I could not refuse: A subscription lasting six months, for one dollar. I jumped at it. Actually, I did pause for a moment, knowing how bad I am at remembering to cancel “free trial” subscriptions before they start costing me. For a moment. Then I jumped at it.
And I found that I enjoyed it beyond all expectation. I enjoyed it for the Red Sox coverage, to be sure, but it went far beyond that. And it’s a bit hard to explain to you why, unless you have my newspaper background. I saw it with the eyes of one who has spent several decades, decades of days filled with long hours agonizing over every word, and over every aspect of putting those words together with other elements and presenting them thoughtfully to the public. I appreciated:
- The news judgment. Remember that post I wrote when I launched my Virtual Front Pages? I talked about how hard we thought, back when I was the front-page editor in Wichita, about how to present news in a way that quickly provided readers, in overview and depth, the information that was most important for citizens to possess and ingest. That was already fading as an art back in the ’80s when I was immersed in it. In the unlamented 21st century, I only saw it at The New York Times and a few other elite papers across the country. And I immediately saw that the Globe was definitely one of those papers.
- The esthetics. What good is it to provide good content if people don’t want to look at it? And this paper was beautiful, in a number of ways more so than the NYT, which remains more firmly wedded to tradition. Of course, there are things I prefer about the NYT — the Globe, for instance, makes too much use of white space, unlike the blessed Gray Lady. But there is no doubt it looks good, each page being a pleasure to my eyes even before I start reading. Consequently, when I open the app, I immediately click on the “print edition” option — otherwise I’d be missing out on a thing made the paper enjoyable.
- All sorts of other, minor things. Sports, for instance. I’ve mentioned this before. About how this is a paper that understands that “sports” means far more than football, and most of all that it gives proper due to the national pastime. Rare is the day that the Red Sox aren’t given prominence, even out of season — but prominence within a context that clearly recognizes there are more important things in the world than sports. There are other small things, such as the comics. Most comics pages across the country are just embarrassing, they are so lacking in wit. There’s nothing they can do to bring back the glory days of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side,” but the Globe‘s editors take the trouble to offer a better selection from among the slim pickings that remain. (OK, it’s only a little better — there’s not much to work with these days. But it’s better.)
Basically, everything shows the work of an ample crowd of very talented people who work hard to present readers with the best paper possible. In a world in which most of the remaining newspapers across the country lie in ruins, very dim shadows of what they were, it means a lot to me to take a deep, refreshing drink at this well. Of course, we’re talking about a full-sized grownup major city, with everything from subways to professional teams in all major sports — so you’d expect them to have more to work with. But the Globe doesn’t take those resources for granted. It makes the most of them.
But then, my $1 deal ran out. And by the time it did, my Boston trip was well behind me. Worse, I wasn’t looking through the paper more than once a week or so. Not that I didn’t enjoy it when I did, but there were just too many other papers I was subscribing to — the NYT, The Washington Post, The Post and Courier, The State — and as a South Carolinian and a blogger, I felt obliged to read those first. Plus such magazines as The New Yorker and America. And there’s only so much time in a day.
And when the deal ran out, I started getting charged more than I was paying for any other paper. I still kept the subscription for awhile, figuring I sort of owed it to the folks up there, after that amazingly generous trial deal. And a paper this good deserved financial support. But when my wife pointed out this summer what a drain it was, I admitted it was time to drop it.
I wasn’t happy about it, though. And I still got multiple emails a day telling me about good stories I was missing.
Then, yesterday, I got a phone call. As my device rang, I saw the words BOSTON GLOBE under the unfamiliar number. So I answered — I figured I still sort of owed these folks that much. I knew what the call was about, and I was prepared to explain that yes, I love your paper, but I just can’t afford it.
I didn’t get that far.
I found myself listening not to an artificial voice, and not to someone named “Steve” from an overworked Indian call center. Instead, I was having an actual conversation with a very pleasant young woman with no sort of accent (to an American ear) at all. (Actually, I would have liked it better if she’d had a Boston accent, but you can’t have everything.) She was nice. She cared. And she was offering me another deal.
She was offering 26 weeks for a total of $12. Uneasily glancing toward my dear wife in the next room, I jumped at it. Then, when the call ended, I confessed what I had done, and my bride grimaced a bit. But she didn’t make me cancel it.
Then the phone rang again. It was my new friend, telling me that she hadn’t been able to charge the $12 to my debit card. Oh, yeah… That’s because my old card is expiring this month, and the credit union sent me a new one and I activated it, so the old one didn’t work. So I told her that my new one had the same number, and here was the new expiration date and secret code from the back, so run it again.
But she didn’t have the old number — just the last four digits. And at this critical moment, I did what I have so many times advised my mother (and my father, in his last years) not to do: I gave her the whole number.
My wife overheard, and when the call was over, expressed shall we say incredulity at what I had just done. I expressed my firm intuitive belief that in this case, I was not dealing with a scam. I said this as confidently as I could. But I immediately called up my account online, and was hugely relieved to see that I had just paid $12 to The Boston Globe.
And this morning, I was able to read the print edition on my iPad app. And it was beautiful…