Denver Post Can't Opt Out of Controversy Over New Policies

I opened my mail last week and found a wacky, dense, CAPPY letter from "The Denver Post Membership" to me, a "loyal subscriber." After detailing all of the benefits of being a subscriber — "advertising values and money-saving coupons more than cover the cost of your membership" — the letter reminded me that the paper has a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff (which was about to be cut by 26 people, as the buyout deadline loomed).  Then Bill Reynolds, senior vice-president of circulation and production, got to the point: "This letter has two purposes," he wrote. "We want to remind you of our general subscription policies and describe a new arbitration program."

The often-capitalized details of that arbitration program — which Michael Roberts described as "the latest way the Denver Post is alienating the subscribers it has left" — filled the bottom and the entire backside of the letter, and basically boiled down to this: If I have concerns about my subscription, I must go to arbitration — or cancel my subscription.

Yeah, I'm going to risk paying "filing and arbitrator fees of up to $5,000" to fight about that paper thrown under the neighbor's sprinkler.

The portion of the letter describing SUBSCRIPTION TERM also required some caps, but was more straightforward: The duration of my subscription would be reduced by the equivalent of $3 or $4 each time I did not opt out of receiving one of four Special Editions a year. This concept was familiar, because the Post had introduced it earlier this year for its special commemorative Super Bowl edition, adding a sour note to the Broncos celebration.

And the SUBSCRIPTION TERM concept was underlined by a "To Our Reader" warning repeated every day last week on page two of the paper itself:
For Sunday, June 19, subscription rates will be increased to reflect a Special Content Edition at a cost equal to $3. To opt out, please contact Member Services, 303-832-3232, prior to Friday, June 17. If you do not opt out, the cost of your subscription will not change, but the term will be shortened.
Finally, on Friday, with a big cup of coffee in front of me, I dialed that number and waited for what I assumed would be a hellish trip through voice mail. But instead, an automated voice briskly told me to press 1 for "subscription policy or arbitration." I did just that and was immediately connected to a pleasant, live person working in what was clearly a busy room, who explained that the Special Content edition was a summer vacation guide, and even if I opted out, I would still get my Sunday paper. And while I was on the phone, she added, I could go ahead and opt out of the NFL season preview and the Thanksgiving package. I thanked her and did just that — saving a $10 bite on a subscription that went up 40 percent last year from what I'd paid in 2014 and will likely go up more than that at my next renewal.

Summer Getaways was delivered with my Sunday Post anyway. The kicker? It was worth $3!

But it's beyond me why a newspaper drastically cutting its staff would want to use that staff to produce what's essentially a nice summer travel guide, gaining the Post a handful of coupon advertisements — but losing considerable goodwill with those loyal subscribers.

"I'm just befuddled by the whole damn thing," says one of those subscribers, who got his Sunday paper sans Summer Getaways. "They are making it really hard for the people who really do want to see the Post survive. No wonder they don't want anyone to sue them."
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun