The Denver Post has far fewer subscribers than it once did — and if even more cut ties over its new arbitration policy, the paper seems okay with it.
A document obtained by Westword includes talking points for staffers dealing with angry subscribers. In it, the call takers are told to stress that the only way for consumers to opt out of the policy is to cancel their subscription — and if they'd like to complain to the Colorado Attorney General or the Better Business Bureau, they can go right and do it.
This development has hardly taken place in a vacuum.
In late April, we told you about a buyout offer at the Post with a goal of reducing the staff by 26 — a number that, when added to previous departures, would result in a newsroom about one-third smaller than at the same time the previous year. The announcement about who has taken the deal is expected shortly, and at noon on Friday, June 17, the Denver Newspaper Guild will be holding a protest of the cuts outside the Post's headquarters.
"The action will shine a light on the negative impact our community faces from the loss of journalists covering the region," a DNG press release notes.
Sources subsequently told us that despite the buyout effort, the Post is making millions and its profits are rising. But as we wrote, Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that controls Digital First Media, the Post's current owner (it's among the main targets of the Denver Newspaper Guild protest), "feels confident that print will be going away over the course of the next ten years or so, and given this eventuality, the only logical course of action is to squeeze every last dime from the operation while such coins are still available.
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"That includes jacking up subscription prices on a regular basis, even if doing so hurts overall circulation, as a way of getting maximum profit out of longtime subscribers (the paper's core audience) for as long as possible before eliminating print entirely," we added.
Against this backdrop, the Post began sending subscribers letters under the signature of Senior Vice President of Circulation and Production Bill Reynolds announcing that they would be charged an additional $4 for a Thanksgiving edition and "no more than three (3) other Special Editions annually, which will be charged to the subscriber's account at either $3 or $4 each. If you do not want to receive these Special Editions, you may call customer care to opt out. If you do not opt out, your SUBSCRIPTION TERM will be shortened."
In addition, the letter also makes mention of the Post's arbitration policy, described as "a method of resolving a claim, dispute or controversy without filing a lawsuit." The introduction to the policy, spelled in all caps, reads:
PLEASE READ THIS ARBITRATION PROVISION CAREFULLY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS. YOU AGREE THAT ANY CLAIM THAT YOU MAY HAVE IN THE FUTURE MUST BE RESOLVED THROUGH BINDING ARBITRATION. YOU WAIVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE YOUR DISPUTE HEARD IN COURT AND WAIVE THE RIGHT TO BRING CLASS CLAIMS. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT DISCOVERY AND APPEAL RIGHTS ARE MORE LIMITED IN ARBITRATION.
The harsh tone of this passage is likely the reason for the talking points. Here are some examples of sample questions and recommended replies:
I don't want to cancel my subscription, but I'm not sure I want to participate in the Arbitration Program, what are my options?
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Unfortunately, the arbitration procedure is mandatory and must be applicable to all subscriptions. This is much like what happens when you sign up for cable service or have any procedures done in a hospital. Mandatory arbitration is a much cheaper and less time-consuming process for both parties in resolving disputes. You may only opt out of the program by cancelling your subscription.
If I cancel my subscription now, can I opt out of the program when I start my service up again in 30 days?
No. The mandatory arbitration terms will apply to all subscriptions going forward.
I am very angry about this notice. I don't want to agree to anything. I just want my newspaper! I am going to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office/Better Business Bureau, etc.
You certainly have the right to do so, however, we have verified with our lawyers that the mandatory arbitration procedure is legal and enforceable.
I have been a subscriber for 30 years. Why are you sending this to me now?
We wanted to restate our program regarding special editions and we also wanted to give you notice that we are implementing a mandatory arbitration procedure. Nothing else but your subscription will change and the mandatory arbitration procedure will not cost you anything.
One more item of note: A knowledgeable source tells us that subscribers who opt out of special editions so as not to incur an additional cost will almost certainly receive them anyhow, since there's not currently a procedure in place to customize special-edition delivery by address.
The letter gives subscribers thirty days from the time they received it to cancel their subscription — and we're told the Post has received hundreds of calls on the topic. For more information about the Denver Newspaper Guild protest tomorrow, June 17, click here.