Confessions of a Print Journalism Major: I just canceled my daily Washington Post subscription

Well I didn’t cancel my subscription, I just downgraded it to Sunday-delivery only, but that’s not as exciting a headline. In journalism school, I learned the importance of a catchy headline.

Enjoying one final read of today's paper.

Enjoying one final read of today's paper.

I also learned the value of journalism. And the Washington Post definitely delivers quality journalism every day.

So why, you ask, did I cancel?

Was it because as a proud member of the under-thirty crowd (albeit for 10 more months), you get all your news online?

Not really – I read a lot of news on my iPhone, online and with my favorite RSS reader, but I still greatly enjoy sitting with a newspaper over breakfast and coffee perusing headlines, reading advice columns and the funnies — and have done so my whole life.

So then, was it because of all the cuts newspapers have made over the years, resulting in a thinner paper with more copy errors?

Nope, not that either. I don’t mind that the Post combined the business section with the front section of the paper – now I actually read some of those stories! And none of the sections of the paper that I read religiously have truly suffered – Dana Milbank’s hilarious Washington Sketch columns, Amy and Roxanne’s Reliable Sources and Carolyn Hax’s adictive advice column, plus most of the front section. There is still a strong selection of international news and hard-hitting investigations. True, I’ve noticed many more copy errors since all the buyouts, but it didn’t cause me to cancel. Try again.

As a print journalism major from a great DC school, don’t you feel guilty turning your back on one of the industry’s shining beacons?

I do indeed. But not guilty enough.

The real reason I canceled my subscription has nothing to do with the reasons everyone sites will be the ultimate downfall of the print news business. Our industry has spent years churning over dropping subscription numbers and negative profit margins for newspapers in the U.S. Most analysts conclude the problems we’re facing are because of: a dangerous mix of greed from media execs, a lack of insight and innovation from newspapers everywhere, and a wealth of creativity from non-news organizations replacing the void online.

The reason I canceled my subscription was much more to do with the environmental impact of getting a daily newspaper. The guilt of recycling pounds and pounds of newsprint every week was wearing me down. It always seemed like a necessary evil, until I attended — of all things — the World Association of Newspapers annual convention in Gothenburg, Sweden last year. The convention was full of media titans from around the world stubbornly clinging to a misguided notion that newsprint would be around forever, and would continue to give them huge profits. However, one media exec, our soft spoken host from a media conglomerate in Sweden, made a great point during one of WAN’s delusional panels on the future of the newspapers. He made his point so quietly and unassumingly that I’m not sure anyone but me really caught it. He said that newspapers would end, if for no other reason, than because of their environmental impact. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, no one will want to deal with all that excess paper.

Since that time, more than a year ago, I’ve battled with how and when I’ll cancel my subscription. I knew it had to be done. Everything I read I can get online – while using the same amount of electricity I would use anyway. There was absolutely no reason to continue reading the news in the paper, just because I liked the format better than a screen.

This week I also went back to school – I’m now a master’s candidate in communications. (I long ago abandoned my plans to be a print journalist) I know I won’t have time to even read my staples in the morning paper. I decided to eliminate the daily paper and just get the Sunday paper – still a lot of waste, but at least there is a higher chance of me reading more info per page trashed. So I made the call.

It was surprisingly painless.

Washington Post Subscription Cancellation Woman: “You’ll be missing a lot of benefits from the paper. Is that OK with you?”

Me: “Yes.”

Goodbye, sweet daily paper, I'll miss you.

Goodbye, sweet daily paper, I'll miss you.

She then offered me an unbelievable price (I currently pay about $20/month for the paper). She offered the same price for the next six months. Does that even pay for the ink? I declined. The conversation was over.

So now, what? Well I still have one nagging question: Why doesn’t the Washington Post offer anything else to their departing subscribers? I’m sure there are others like me with a nagging sense of guilt for no longer receiving a daily paper. Why not milk the guilt and offer us something else? If the woman had asked me to continue paying the same amount to the Post and, in exchange, they’d give me a free download to read the Washington Post RSS feed in a cool application online, I’d do it! Heck, if she had asked me to continue sending the checks as a mere donation — my way to support the industry I love — I’d do that too! (And it would save me having to log into my bank account and adjust my bill-pay settings)

So why not offer something else instead of practically free papers for six months? Why not?

When I get an answer to that question, we’ll know the industry has a future.

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6 Responses to Confessions of a Print Journalism Major: I just canceled my daily Washington Post subscription

  1. Bill Sodeman says:

    Good article! I haven’t had a subscription to dead-tree newspaper since 1996.

  2. Dawn Arteaga says:

    Thanks Bill, how do you get most of your news?

    As a follow-up to this article, I recently got a call from the Washington Post again. They offered me the paper FOR FREE until the end of the year (WHA?!?!?!?!!). Brilliant business model, huh? I told the woman that I thought it was incredibly destructive to the environment to have so much paper. I asked if she had a digital product I could buy. She said no. I said I’d be happy to pay for any other product that the Washington Post offered that didn’t consume so much paper. She said there was nothing else and thanked me for my time.

    Depressing.

  3. john towriss says:

    Thoughtful post Dawn and love the personal journey of your angst over canceling your subscription. I’m actually amazed that someone under 30 still enjoys holding a paper and a cup of coffee and mixing the two. Being that I’m an avowed whatever-the-opposite-of-packrat is, I long ago did away with any news subscriptions and the paper that goes with it although I can’t honestly say for strictly environmental reasons. And as a founding cnn’er I’m somewhat reluctant to admit that my favorite news source is google news that uses an algorithm of all things instead of people to determine news value. You can take some comfort that the post makes so little of its money from the wash post paper and far more from their educational services that your loss of subscription is unlikely to hurt too much.

  4. James Breiner says:

    Dawn,

    Don´t feel bad. It´s a reasonable decision.

    As a carrier for years who put the paper inside people´s screen doors when the weather was bad, I always resented having to go to the front sidewalk to pick up a soaking wet package of plastic. I stopped getting the Sun when I got back from Bolivia. Then the Examiner started throwing papers on my lawn. Took a while but I stopped that too.

    I do still get Mural every day here, but I had to subscribe to the print in order to get the web.

    Peace, Jim

  5. Dawn Arteaga says:

    Thanks John! I must say I’ve really gotten accustomed to getting 100% of my information from my phone and online and don’t feel that I’m missing out on a whole lot. It’s a shame the Post still hasn’t developed an alternate product to sell to people like me who would be willing to pay for a digital news delivery system with the same content. Hopefully they’ll come up with some options soon.

  6. Dawn Arteaga says:

    Thanks Jim! The Mural has an interesting strategy — and one that clearly worked for you at least. I appreciate all options that aren’t strictly old-school business models for journalism!

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