Why I don’t subscribe to our local newspaper

Jeff, I’m looking forward to reading what George (Boardman) has to say…
—Bonnie McGuire

Hi Bonnie,

To be sure, George Boardman will keep you on board as a subscriber to The Union newspaper. He shares your political and social values, and like you, he is a retiree. He’s a Jeff Ackerman “mini me,” in style and substance. You’ll have to see that over time, mind you, not in a single column or two. So, yes, he views the world largely through your “lens.”

The real question is whether he will be able to help reel in any new subscribers, including me, which is why The Union does a “readership survey.” I wouldn’t sign up for The Union because George Boardman writes a weekly column, RL Crabb draws a cartoon, there is local news and so on.

It’s not because of any “grudge” or their manners, it’s business: I don’t find the “content” interesting enough to pay for a subscription – print or online. The local news reports also come from Yubanet, social media, KNCO, KVMR, blogs, and government websites — for free. The Union news reports are often incomplete or amateurish.

And therein lies the problem for The Union. Competition and its content. And my time.

I’m also a would-be advertiser to The Union. I advertised once, but didn’t find it effective or a good customer service experience. It was more just about a blank face selling me a display ad and taking my credit card number — before the ad even ran. The fellow was polite but not experienced about business — he was more of an “order taker.” The Union’s content also is locked behind a “paywall,” which limits its reach for advertisers.

In truth, people like me are George’s “customer,” RL Crabb’s customer, Brian Hamilton’s and Dave Schmall’s customer. The same is true of Jeff Ackerman, who is an employee of the Swift chain, which publishes The Union. He’s a “representative” of this publishing company.

And there are a lot of people like me for The Union to sign up. Just look at the subscriber numbers and the skewed demographics (toward older, not younger). Its next 150 years depend on it.

People in our demographic tend to decide the local elections (“moderates”), shop in town (not Roseville), support “sustainability,” generously support nonprofits with checks, and we are growing local business owners with local contractors.

We go to church, send local flowers to our friends, belong to nonprofits and our local Chamber of Commerce, attend local events, subscribe to a newspaper (The Bee), buy food from our farmers at the farmers market and through CSAs and so on.

We are little local “economic engines,” and we always “shop local.” We also are raising a child in our community (a “millennial” consumer for The Union if he decides to live here).

All told, The Union should be working much harder to “sign us up,” with better content and a reader demographic that is more diverse (including politically) for advertisers to reach. It’s not personal, Bonnie, it’s business.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

18 thoughts on “Why I don’t subscribe to our local newspaper”

  1. Until Ackerman destroyed The Union we had been loyal subscribers for years.
    The Union kept us informed and took only 15 minutes or less to read it front to back. the Union staff took pride in their jobs and raised their families among us.
    For their first job, all four of our boys had paper routes (opportunity lost with technology).
    Quite often I’m solicited to subscribe. I explain why I won’t.. I’ve been explaining for 10 years. The Union is deaf. Worse, The Union chose to betray the community and in doing so it’s reason to exist.

  2. The Union completely missed the boat as a Free Speech venue, when it killed off the free wheeling article commenting that went on before the Obama election. Those folks still need a place to express themselves, and find it on Facebook at the group known as Nevada County Vents.

    I am the admin for the group, and initially it was just my friends, mostly blue state and farther left. Since it is an open group, I can’t tell how many lurkers there are, but I have noticed and interesting trend. For the first couple of months I would be getting a bunch of folks wanting to sign up, who were nowhere near Nevada County, and a quick review of their group revealed distant locations, no friends mutual, or even any friends already in the group, Nevada County Vents. I could easily dismiss them.

    Of late, however, there’s a new crowd, that has their privacy shields well up, have no mutual friends, but from the few images they do present, do appear to be local, but definitely from the Duck Dynasty side of Nevada County. I post their names, and usually somebody will know somebody who does know them to be local. Then I add them. Not very many post from them yet, but there was a definitely upsurge when the billboard and the troops and the church issue came up. George’s Rebane and Boardman, eat your hearts out.

  3. I’m quite concerned about who registers for these local groups like NC Vents. The right uses a tactic to flood every site found to post all shorts of miss information and comments that distract from the topic of discussion or debate. The religious right developed this “flooding” in the mid 80’s. At the same time NYTimes, National Geographic and other publications were demonized to discourage loyal Christians from reading them. The Republican party adopted this tactic. It will be interesting to see what gets posted.

    1. I am the one and only admin for the group, and can very easily close the gates should some crazy stream of proselytizing start pouring through, by simply dropping them from the group.

  4. We’ve subscribed to the union for 61 years. It does a great job covering our community. The opinion page has always been popular. Jeff Ackerman did an excellent job. The layout was great. Nothing new locally, other than more homeless people and drug addicts, but the population is growing. Lots of elderly living in our numerous retirement homes, but this area never had enough employment for young people. So you think the Bee is great? So much for local business…to each his own, but I don’t feel a connection…yawn. It’s amazing how many people want to control what others think and do. I’ve always enjoyed the variety of ideas allowed in the Union. May it always be so…I’ll raise my glass to that. Happy New Year!

  5. Bonnie,
    The Bee does a good job of promoting our community to the rest of the world. Here’s an example: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/28/5597267/casual-fine-dining-on-the-rise.html
    And who can argue with the results? People driving “up the hill” to discover our towns and spend money. We need it, since we’re an aging, declining demographic.
    The Union’s own “readership survey” showed that more readers wish the paper would take more of a regional approach. The Bee already does that.
    If anybody is “controlling” it’s the contingent of right-wing ideologues that have “controlled” The Union’s editorial direction (and its publisher) for at least 61 years.
    I’m sure that satisfies you. But that’s not good for the community, since we are now a much more diverse bunch.
    Casting a wider net will draw more advertisers, because they know they are reaching a more diverse demographics.
    The recent Grass Valley shopping survey showed that The Union’s core demographics (older retirees) tends to shop “off the hill,” so why would anyone local want to advertise into that demographic? (Good luck changing the retirees’ minds; their minds are made up). Instead, draw more readers who support “sustainability” and shop local, just like your grandparents and great grandparents did before COSTCO.
    Readership will grow too.
    But The Union is caught in a quagmire: Worrying more about preserving the past (its declining circle of readers) than securing the future. And trying to land advertising from the “big box” stores in North Auburn to pay their bills. The “paywall” is a band-aid fix too.
    The trouble is that the Ackerman regime has badly damaged the paper’s credibility with the “sustainable” demographic (he often mocked them), and it is a real uphill battle to build back that trust. To make matters worse, along came new competition: social media, which is regularly “scooping” The Union, whose staff is overworked, underpaid and could use more experience.
    Rather than signing up George Boardman (an Ackerman “mini-me”), The Union ought to sign up Reinette Senum! But it’s probably too late. Eventually I think The Union will have to sell, probably merging with an outfit like Gold Country Media (which owns the Auburn Journal) to become a regional community newspaper (and draw on the North Auburn advertising).
    The Union is happily celebrating its past 150 years, but it should be worrying more about the next 150. It’s head is stuck firmly in the sand.

    1. Well said Jeff. I will say during Ackerman’s tenure things were more interesting, fair, & balanced while you were there. Since then it was back to the usual ho-hum divisiveness that Jeff Ackerman was extremely skilled at.

    2. Jeff it all boils down to what all sorts of people like, rather than one mentality that thinks what it wants would be best for everyone else. Like with all businesses the Union will survive or sink, but I hope it just keeps going like the energized bunny. It’s always been the wonderful voice of our community.

      1. Hi Bonnie,
        I think what it boils down to is that you and The Union have been aligned for years on what you think is best for the community. That’s great but the community is changing, and it won’t grow unless it changes with the changing times. Our community has almost proudly isolated itself from the region and the state for a long, long time, and the “unintended consequences” are showing up almost daily. We don’t get much respect, as Rodney Dangerfield would put it.

  6. The difference in what Bonnie and Jeff are stating is the mixed bag on both sides.

    Bonnie as most of us do remember the good times and push the bad far back in our memory when we are talking about where we live. The mix bag for Bonnie is trying to keep it the same but at the same time improving the bad things which means change. Trying to keep the community the same size and culture without a sustainable economic model in place makes it impossible. So the courting the Bay Area folks who want to get out of the overpopulated and very expensive area that have different priorities begin to equal or surpass the long timers.

    Jeff is speaking in reality terms of the status quo of how small towns either go away or thrive. Just as in wanting to keep things the same there are good and very bad parts of what Jeff is talking about. I have experienced it first hand many times in my adult life. The very reason people move to an area gets over taken by a big push from new blood (money) into the community, which changes the dynamic of the area. We moved from such a place in 2003, Telluride, Colorado. My wife’s first year there was in 1987 and mine was in 1991 when it was still a hippi very open town. By the time we moved it was a mini Aspen where anyone who had lived there for over a decade could no longer to afford it unless they were in real estate or independently wealthy on arrival.

    I would really like to see the local first campaign Jeff mentioned become the dominant model for our area as the national economy continues to be so volatile and financial sector heavy.

  7. Actually Ben…I enjoy all kinds of things and don’t fit your description. Actually those pushing tourism are more concerned about preserving the past to make a buck. Human nature doesn’t change for the better without some effort. Times change along with the window dressing. There are good, creative people along with those who constantly wish to control others. I enjoy reading the union and resent the constant attempt to manipulate those in charge. I remember it’s blog and the dog pack insulting those that didn’t fit their correct mentality. Maybe that’s how to get rid of the online discussion, and discourage subscribers?

    1. My mistake Bonnie,
      I was trying to show how we all have a perfect community in our minds but it never quite works out that way but you proved me wrong. George B. or The Union is entitled to speak their opinions and Jeff P is entitled to speak his but you seem to come here to tell Jeff P he is wrong for doing so. Jeff P was pointing out by continuing to present our community with an hard right slant it is a business mistake because that is leaving out a large chunk of the population. If readership and advertising is the goal then alienating half the population is a pretty stupid business plan.

  8. Ben I don’t think so. I’m actually very liberal, because I’m all for freedom period. The so called hard right and hard left are the same….those who want to dominate others by controlling every aspect of life….including speech. If you are among those who think the Union’s policy allowing all opinions is destructive to attracting subscribers so be it…your personal opinion. According to some studies…those on the hard right believe in big government and control. those who fall in the liberal mentality believe in less government and freedom. To each his own…I’m a liberal.

    1. Glad to hear Bonnie,
      When it comes to freedoms and liberties of individuals I am huge liberal. I guess maybe you and I view politics the same way not about party affiliation and their actions but our individual beliefs and philosophies. Good to know.

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